South Africa

ANC Youth League’s fight for relevance and survival

By Ranjeni Munusamy 11 September 2012

The ANC Youth League is fighting to retain its position as kingmaker in the ruling party, using its 68th anniversary celebration to lobby for radical leadership and policy change in Mangaung. But this conference will be different from others – it’s no longer just a push for change but also a fight for the league’s survival. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY. 

Exactly five years ago, the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) put out its National Executive Committee (NEC) bulletin saying three major challenges faced the ruling party: careerism and dispensation of patronage; the question of access to state power for selfish interests; and the relationship between the organisation and the state. 

The bulletin also said the ANCYL needed to consider the rejuvenation of the ANC NEC and ensure generational mix at the party’s Polokwane National Conference. The ANCYL announced in September 2007 that its NEC had decided to propose the following names for the ANC’s top six posts:

  • President: Jacob Zuma
  • Deputy President: Kgalema Motlanthe; 
  • National Chair: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma;
  • Secretary General: Gwede Mantashe; 
  • Deputy Secretary General: Baleka Mbete; and 
  • Treasurer General: Mathews Phosa

The Youth League was the first structure in the Alliance to announce its slate, long before the nominations process opened. Apart from Dlamini-Zuma, who fell off the Zuma camp list when her name also appeared on the Thabo Mbeki slate as the candidate for deputy president, all the nominees were elected. Mbete was instead nominated as the national chairwoman and Thandi Modise was included on the list as the nominee for deputy secretary general.  

Under the leadership of Fikile Mbalula, the ANC Youth League supported Zuma throughout his corruption and rape trials, deciding that as the ANC’s deputy president, he was the natural choice to succeed Mbeki. It was the League that also pushed for a constitutional change in the ANC so that the president of the party should also be state president. As Mbeki was serving his second term as South Africa’s president, the ANCYL therefore motivated that the ANC needed a new leader who would top the election ticket in 2009. 

The ANCYL’s announcement in its September 2007 bulletin set the cat among the pigeons, as a few days later, after the mother body’s national executive met, the ANC, still under the presidency of Mbeki, issued a statement informing its structures that nominations would begin in October. 

“The organisation has agreed procedures for the nomination and election of members of the NEC. These are well known to all members, having evolved through the long-standing democratic practices and traditions of the movement. In a special message to ANC members, the NEC said the organisation should reclaim the debate about who its leaders should be,” the statement read. 

But there was really nothing the ANC could do when the Youth League jumped the gun and had a running start influencing party structures to back its slate. 

Five years later, the ANC Youth League is relatively restrained in comparison to it predecessors. Although it is consistently talking up leadership change and generational mix, and has made no bones about the fact that it wants Motlanthe to replace Zuma, League leaders have not yet officially announced their slate for Mangaung. 

Of course, the situation might have been quite different had Julius Malema remained ANC Youth League president. After being expelled, Malema has repeatedly called for Zuma to be removed as ANC president and has mauled him over his leadership weaknesses and, lately, the Marikana massacre. Although the ANCYL refuses to concede that Malema is no longer its leader, his statements carry significantly less weight outside the formal structures of the ANC. 

The Youth League obviously suffered a setback after the expulsions of Malema, Secretary General Sindiso Magaqa and spokesman Floyd Shivambu. While Ronald Lamola is the effective acting president, he and the League prefer to use his original title of deputy president so as to keep Malema’s position vacant. They are hoping that the Mangaung conference will reverse Malema’s expulsion and that he will return to the position as league leader. 

While a vacuum existed in the first few weeks after Malema’s expulsion, Lamola has now taken up the cudgel and is pursuing the campaign Malema started for nationalisation under the banner of “economic freedom in our lifetime”. He is also consistent in campaigning for Motlanthe as the preferred choice of the youth in the ANC, while steering clear of Malema’s venom. He constantly needs to choose his words carefully – he needs to project militancy and radical change but also be cautious lest he end up in the same boat as Malema, Magaqa and Shivambu. 

Lamola’s challenge is that he needs to keep the organisation afloat, united and to maintain its high media profile while fending off accusations he is trying to replace Malema. It is a delicate egg dance having to provide decisive leadership to a rowdy and contested organisation while remaining on the right side of the ANC’s disciplinary code – and still try to keep Malema’s seat warm. 

It was under these trying conditions that Lamola led the ANC Youth League’s 68th anniversary celebrations in Thembelihle, in Lenasia, south of Johannesburg on Monday. Lamola said the ANC would “bring new leaders” in Mangaung and criticised Zuma for continuously harping on party discipline while failing at delivery. 

Writing in the ANC Youth League’s online newsletter Hlomelang last week, Lamola said it was up to the youth “to inject new energy, innovation and thinking” in the ANC. “In future we will find it difficult to blame Apartheid or its architects because we would have been in power for many years. Excuses for non-delivery of basic services to our people must indeed be cause for concern.

“Very worrying must be the spates (sic) of protests in various towns for such basic commodities as roads, water, sewage system and electricity. More over we must be worried about the stubborn high levels of youth unemployment.”

Lamola said this was the reason the youth needed to push for a radical economic policy shift at Mangaung. “We should not shy away from our mandate of challenging our parental generation as that is our mandate as young people, as a child who behaves, think and act like his parents is as good as not having been born. A child should bring innovation, new ideas and energy in society. We must discuss openly without fear of self contradiction that indeed we are faced with serious challenges that we can no longer put blame on others as we are the ruling party.”

In order to lend weight to the anniversary celebrations on Monday and the campaign for radical change, the ANCYL invited ANC Gauteng Chairman Paul Mashatile and Mbalula to address the event. While Mbalula did not turn up, Mashatile publicly voiced his province’s position that the current ANC leadership needed to be voted out in December. Gauteng, it appears, is progressively stepping up its campaign to be the chief playmakers at the conference. 

“Let us adopt radical policies (in Mangaung), let us renew our organisation, let us renew our leadership,” Mashatile said.  

The Youth League leaders led their supporters in songs in praise of Motlanthe while making the soccer substitution sign signalling change. 

The ANCYL heads to Mangaung with a bigger wish list than most others. It wants to restore its full leadership compliment by revoking the expulsion of the deposed leaders, who have now stepped so far beyond the ANC’s disciplinary bounds that will be an almost impossible task. It wants the ANC to adopt its radical proposals for economic change, including strategic nationalisation. Like at the ANC’s policy conference, this is bound to be a major battle at the national conference.

And the ANCYL’s biggest mission at Mangaung will be removing Zuma and replacing him with Motlanthe – whether he wants to be their candidate or not. The ANCYL believes that with its 68-year legacy of militancy and as agents of change, it can pull all this off. 

With all the blows the league has suffered in the recent past, the cost of not winning these battles means it would have to surrender its role as kingmaker. It may also mean the ANCYL’s detractors may pursue their plans to convert it into a youth desk of the ANC. 

Mangaung is therefore a fight for the ANC Youth League’s survival – one it simply cannot afford to lose. DM

Photo: Supporters of African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) chant slogans during an ANCYL rally in Limpopo province March 25, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko


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