Media, Politics

Analysis: Youth League’s mission to salvage its image

By Sipho Hlongwane 2 December 2010

Who knew? The ANC Youth League has feelings after all. Contrary to what their Beloved Leader’s bluster would have us believe, when the press pokes them, ANCYL leaders actually flinch. Following a blitz of the worst sort of negative press, about broken promises to needy children, the ANCYL has gone on the charm offensive, keen to rescue what's left of its reputation. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

A year-and-a-bit after making a grand promise to a poor school in Mthatha, the Youth League finally delivered on Wednesday. But it happened only following a torrent of media reports that detailed the broken promises. Those started generating the type of negative press that sends them into fits of rage. Julius Malema presented 34 wheelchairs to a school for children with disabilities in Mthatha on 1 December as part of “social responsibility work done by the ANC Youth League”.

The next day, Malema and his delegation were in Midrand to donate to the Peniel Women/Youth and Orphans Shelter in Halfway House. All the media were cordially invited.

Compare this to the man The Daily Maverick wrote about in October. In 2009 Malema had promised Makanyu Primary School in Thohoyandou 200 pairs of shoes for its pupils, and then promised Ikhwezi Lokusa Special School 50 wheelchairs for children with cerebral palsy. A year later neither of these promises had been kept, prompting the Bobs for Good Foundation to step in and deliver the shoes in Limpopo, and the Daily News in Durban to raise money for the Mthatha school.

The Daily News had been nagging the Youth League throughout the year, but that reached a crescendo in September, forcing ANCYL spokesman Floyd Shivambu to issue a press release in an effort to counter the negative publicity. He promised the ANCYL would finalise payments on the wheelchairs by the end of November.

In October, a 10% down-payment for wheelchairs collectively worth about R500,000 had been made to Mr. Wheelchair in Durban. According to the Daily News, the wheelchairs had been ready for delivery before Christmas last year, but the Youth League had deferred payment. Shivambu claimed  they had finalised payment, but wouldn’t divulge any details.

He said the ANCYL had deferred payment for more than a year because it needed to find the money. “Our organising congress got the resources, so now we can deliver those wheelchairs,” Shivambu said. He later refused to answer questions about this week’s donation in Midrand.

Mzonsundu Gulwa, vice principal of Ikhwezi Lokusa, said the Youth League handed over 25 normal wheelchairs and nine electric ones. When asked whether these were adequate for the school’s needs, he said that combined with the 25 wheelchairs delivered earlier by the Daily News, they were “just about covered for now”.

The Daily News has been giving the ANCYL constant negative press over the wheelchairs and even started collecting money from its readers for its own initiative.

Managing editor Bruce Colly said R453,705 had been collected from readers to buy wheelchairs and foam mattresses. The mattresses were for children at the school who were having to be carried around on makeshift trolleys, and were developing pressure sores as a result. He emphasised that the amount was not for settling the ANCYL’s debt to Mr Wheelchair.

“The 50 wheelchairs will fulfil only about a third of the needs of the children at the school, and if the ANCYL settles its debt, the extra money from our readers will provide for other needs,” Colly said.

We’ve said it before – the ANCYL knows which side its bread is buttered on. If you haven’t been paying attention: Malema’s spiritual constituency, the people whose voice he claims to be when he gets up in front of the microphones, is the poor. The people who have slipped under the radar of the system and who are steadily becoming more and more disgruntled at the government for its poor service delivery. The unemployed and the unemployable. This claim has worked very well for Malema, as proved by the raucous welcome he gets whenever he goes into the townships and impoverished areas.  

The news that Youth League has been royally screwing over, not just poor people, but poor children who suffer from disabilities, does not sit well with anyone, Bob Mugabe included. The ANCYL knows this. It’s done charity work before, but it isn’t usually accompanied by this level of fanfare.  And it isn’t just the media that sees past the politicking. Gulwa said the donation to Ikhwezi Lokusa was appreciated, but the contribution to the disabled came “just on time”, during Disability Month.

But for now the soft, cuddly ANCYL does seem to be trying to make a few friends around town. DM

Photo: Reuters.


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