Analysis: Wither the ANC Youth League. And the Alliance.
- Stephen Grootes
- South Africa
- 25 Nov 2014 11:45 (South Africa)
On Tuesday the ANC’s national task team that has been running the ANC Youth League since a certain ‘young lion’ went off the game reserve announced that the League’s planned elections had been postponed. For, depending on how you count these things, the third or fourth time. But, farcically, the conference itself is now going to go ahead as a policy gathering. While it is a real indication of the political problems facing the League at the moment, it is also part of a much bigger picture that should worry Luthuli House greatly. It is the picture of the rot setting in at the extremes, rather than the centre. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
It is difficult to remember what a hold Julius Malema’s ANC Youth League seemed to have over the country back at the turn of the decade. Everything he said was treated as white-hot news, most things he sang ended in court. And he garnered headlines everywhere. From Caster Semenya to Pedi translations, he made any issue a hot issue. While many people blamed the media for his supposed grip on the national agenda, in fact it was because he was treated as a coming man within the ANC. President Jacob Zuma himself had said he could be president one day, it seemed that the nationalisation of the mines was just one conference away (the ANC itself created a study group and sent them on a tour of the mining world to examine the issue as a result of his political pressure), and then there were those who thought that every boer was indeed about to get shot.
All of this pushed the public profile of the Youth League to probably the highest it’s been, since a group of young men from the League were able to take over the ANC itself in the late 1940s (their names were Tambo, Mandela, Sisulu, Mda, Gombart, etc). Since then, it has ceased to exist. It has been managed by a group of people appointed by the ANC’s national executive committee. So essentially it’s an extension of Zuma’s own political personality, which, in turn, has made political rallies extremely boring.
This week was the opportunity for the League to regain most of its independence, to become a functioning entity again. It would seem then that Luthuli House’s decision to stop that from happening is merely about power. It may be, but it’s probably the correct political decision here anyway.
For the last few months the main name that has been mentioned as the person most likely to become the League’s first post-dissolution president was Pule Mabe. He is, quite frankly, the worst possible choice. He is under investigation by the police after money from the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) somehow ended up in his bank accounts. It gets worse. He was the treasurer of the League during the Malema years. Nothing wrong with that you might think, he’s not the only one who has suddenly done an about turn and found themselves on the NEC once again. But, while he was treasurer he and Malema used to boast about the assets the League controlled, millions they claimed. Now the League is completely broke, and has only avoided sequestration after the ANC itself stepped in.
Time and time again we’ve been told that the ANC was investigating where this money had gone, and Pule’s role in its disappearance. At the same time of course, we’ve been told that the ANC won’t tolerate corruption, or corrupt leaders, and has even created an integrity commission to stop this sort of thing. That the ANC’s efforts in this regard have failed is so clear we don’t even have to justify our comment, just recite some names: John Block, Zukisa Ncitha (the East London mayor and her friends who sold Madiba down the line), Number One himself.
So clearly Luthuli House seemed to face a stark choice: give the Youth League its independence back, and at the same time sell its soul, or just kick things into touch again. Then there’s the added advantage that if this issue stays in touch long enough, Mabe will soon be too old to run for the post anyway. Considering the very heft that we usually presume Number One’s Luthuli House to have, it is probably a testament to Mabe’s political skills that he survived so long. But perhaps a claim that Mabe used up R6-million in his campaign will explain it. Considering that it emerged in Business Day one can presume that it must have been carefully researched before it was published.
All this means that the ANC Youth League is still in need of resuscitation. It is, to use the phrase, still an ex-League.
For all intents and purposes, the same could be said of the ANC Women’s League. It last had a conference in 2009, which pretty much breaks every rule in the book. It does very little apart from attend the odd trial, and shout its support for Number One, or whichever ex-wife he’s backing today.
In fact, if you look closely enough, this rotting at the edges is a bit of a hallmark of the ANC at the moment. Instead of being at the centre of a strong vibrant alliance, with a group of Leagues adding support through their organisations, decay is everywhere.
The South African Communist Party (SACP) used to be an organisation capable of independent thought. Now it has dissolved into a group of people who seem to only be able to chant the Zuma praise, in many variations.
And then we have Cosatu, about which so much has been said recently, there is very little to add. Except to say that it’s clearly on its last legs, and Numsa and Zwelinzima Vavi and S’dumo Dlamini and the ANC’s task team are just prolonging the inevitable by refusing to give it the last rites. Understandably perhaps, but surely there’s no serious hope of putting it back together again.
It would be fashionable at this point to say this all happened on Number One’s watch, and thus he must carry the can. But actually much of this rot was well entrenched during his path to power. The Women’s League supported him during his rape trial (rather than his accuser), the Youth League was led by Fikile Mbalula who was then in person what he is like now on Twitter. The SACP perhaps had some independent thought, as did Cosatu. But the Mbeki years were ones in the wilderness for Cosatu, and it hasn’t really recovered from Gear.
All in all, it seems very difficult to ever imagine the ANC Youth League being what it once was. But then, it’s hard to imagine the alliance being what it once was too. 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