African Union Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, addressed an ANC Youth League event on Tuesday night. GREG NICOLSON found the esteemed guest’s speech important, but rambling and rather uneventful. Not the sort of stuff to put fire in the belly, much like the ANCYL itself.
To be fair, Dlamini-Zuma touched on most of the important developmental issues facing continent. Like her speech to the Africa-India trade ministers meeting earlier in the day, where Dlamini-Zuma kicked off with the Berlin Conference of 1885, the Wits event started with a bit of history. She mentioned the first Pan-African Conference, in 1900, and the founding values of the ANC Youth League.
Then she spent around an hour traversing African issues related to long-term development and the youth. Africa is very big, she proved. We need to fight sexism and embrace diversity. The continent needs infrastructure. It must produce skilled graduates, who need to know they are the world’s best, especially in science and technology. Electricity availability must increase. Africa needs to stop importing its food and start exporting. It needs to add beneficiation to its minerals and stop buying finished products from outside. Countries have to start agreeing to fair rather than exploitative contracts and the continent’s nations must become closer. Africa needs to tell its own narrative and not leave it to foreigners.
Dlamini-Zuma stressed the things the continent has known for years, at least since the founding of the Organisation of African Unity in 1963. The audience in the lecture theatre drooped tiredly as they tried to listen but was buoyed by the AU chair’s candour and wit.
“Fighting sexism is not only for young women. Young men and women must fight sexism!” she said to applause. “People call this a dark continent for other reasons but I do agree it’s a dark continent because it has no electricity,” she joked. She explained the need for gender equality and skills retention through a metaphor between the Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.
The audience was young and Dlamini-Zuma tried to engage them. “By 2023, a quarter of under-25s in the world will be on this continent. Just imagine, one-in-four of every person under 25 will be on this continent, our continent. And of course by 2050 our population will be more than 2 billion and again the majority will be young people,” she said.
“If this huge number of young people is properly prepared, if we invest in these young people, make sure they are healthy, make sure they have education, they are skilled, a lot of them do science and technology, a lot of them go into research, a lot of them become innovators, then this continent will be on a very good trajectory. It will mean indeed this century will be Africa’s century.”
She challenged the youth to ask themselves what they are doing for the continent and encouraged them to submit their ideas to an AU initiative aiming to collect the youth’s thoughts. “You must use this power by registering to vote, by participating in elections and taking interest not only in who gets elected but also in drawing up manifestos of parties wherever it is on the continent so that you influence the policies that are going to go into that government and make sure that they are the policies that will be friends [not only] to young people but society in general,” she urged.
Dlamini-Zuma spoke shortly after the ANC Youth League’s convener of the national task team (NTT), Mzwandile Masina, the 38-year-old acting president of the Young Lions. Masina spoke on the dignity taken through slavery and imposition of European codes that relegated Africans to sub-humans and said trade contracts remain in favour of foreign companies.
He said we need to respect the sovereignty of African countries, while at the same time it is possible to create a “United States of Africa”. Masina also stressed the need to look into creating an African institution of justice to rival the International Criminal Court.
The platitudes slotted into the current African situation, mentioning Nairobi’s Westgate Mall attack, the military coup in Egypt, and Zimbabwe’s election. But Masina’s words were difficult to take seriously. Hardly an elected leader remains in the Youth League after the NTT systematically disbanded the structures while on an ANC national executive committee mandate to rebuild the organisation.
With an election looming, the Youth League is under threat from more radical organisations with elected leaders who actually fit into the youth bracket. Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters have already turned their red beret into the fashion item for young political radicals. The DA Youth’s, Mbali Ntuli, has been travelling around the country, rallying support.
The ANC Youth League looks like a kept institution. At its recent 69th birthday celebrations, President Jacob Zuma, who brilliantly managed to cow the Young Lions both before and after the Mangaung election, advised, “As you mobilise young people behind the vision of the ANC, you must also be able to capture their imagination and champion their aspirations. That is the only way in which this Youth League of Nelson Mandela can remain relevant and ‘cool’.”
The prize for being cool is the six million new young voters who will for the first time be eligible to vote in 2014. The question is: is an unelected Lion the man to capture the cool and can the ANC’s conveyor belt of veterans capture the youth’s imagination? The Wits event showed they can be interesting, but on the topic of the night – African development – you’ll find more fire in the speeches from 50 years ago and more information in a basic developmental report. DM
"Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it." ~ Salvador Dalí