South Africa

LEAGUE LIMBO

ANCYL birthday: Not much to celebrate

The ANC Youth League celebrates its 76th birthday today,(Photo: http://www.ancyl.org.za/)

There will be a number of events to commemorate the ANC Youth League’s founding 76 years ago, but the party’s young people will be hard-pressed to find anything to celebrate.

Losing hope in the ANC Youth League is not an option, the ANC’s national youth task team (NYTT) coordinator, Sibongile Besani, told journalists on Wednesday. But at the same time, he wants out of the job – or at least is doing his best to appear unambitious.

“I don’t want to be leading the ANC Youth League,” he said. “We really want out of this work. The impression created that we are glued to this work is wrong.” 

Besani, who is also head of the presidency in Luthuli House, tried to resign in February when a statement was put out by members of the task team in his name, criticising the courts for issuing a warrant of arrest against former president Jacob Zuma — but the ANC’s national working committee rejected his resignation.

The divisions in the ANC’s national leadership between supporters of Zuma/party Secretary-General Ace Magashule and of President Cyril Ramaphosa are also evident in the task team.

Besani spent most of the press conference on Wednesday defending the task team’s existence after 107 youth league members wrote to the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) at the end of August to ask for the task team to be disbanded.

“Who are we representing? I think the starting point should be, whose creation are we?” Besani said in response to a question. “We are the creation of the national executive committee of the ANC as the NYTT and it is not our call to disestablish ourselves, it’s the call of the NEC, and for as long as the NEC has not made that call, ours is to focus on the task that we have been doing.” 

The task team was established in July 2019 after the youth league, led by Collen Maine, repeatedly failed to organise an elective conference and after the organisation was liquidated for not being able to pay the millions it owed to service providers. It’s not quite clear how the ANC is going to rescue the latter situation. 

Maine was elected in September 2015 at the age of 35, the cut-off age for membership of the youth league, and became mired in allegations that he had been corrupted by the Gupta brothers. Maine himself was the result of a conference organised by a caretaker task team after the league was disbanded in 2013 after Julius Malema’s expulsion and the collapse of a number of league structures.

The league went mostly downhill from there. In the letter written by youth league members, they point out that there are no legitimate provincial structures. In seven provinces the provincial executive committee’s term of office has long expired. In Limpopo, none of the regions is in good standing, with all the regional executive committees also expired. It’s the same for most of the other provinces. In the Eastern Cape, the provincial task team, put into place to get the ANC Youth League up and running again, has been in place for more than four years, while the provincial executive committee in the Northern Cape has been in office for six years. None of the officials is a member of the league any longer. 

The task team was to have organised a conference by May, but Besani blamed Covid-19 lockdown regulations for the failure to do so. He said the pandemic allowing, the conference was now due to happen at the end of March 2021. But, as Rebone Tau notes in her book entitled The Rise and Fall of the ANC Youth League (to be launched at a Daily Maverick webinar), a few attempts by the task team to convene meetings ended in violence and in Tshwane, with a member being shot dead. 

“There is no organisation on the ground with no attempt by the NYTT to rebuild branches,” the letter said. Many of those who wrote the letter are also part of the so-called ANC Youth League crisis committee, formed earlier in September and which has organised pickets and a virtual lekgotla on Thursday to commemorate the league’s birthday.

It will happen at the same time as the task team’s planned activities of visiting the families of deceased members and hosting an address by the ANC’s treasurer-general Paul Mashatile. President Cyril Ramaphosa was first-choice for speaker, but evidently had more important things to do.

The task team has also invited past presidents, including Malusi Gigaba, who was forced to resign from Parliament in 2018 after it came to light that he lied under oath to the North Gauteng High Court when he said he did not approve the operation of a privately-owned air traffic terminal by the Oppenheimer family. 

In the letter, the league members said the task team members, who come from the ANC’s NEC, are all older than 35 – some activists have dubbed them the “eldership” – and there also seems to be a measure of distrust about their agenda.

The league’s revival needs to take place “free from political influence and coercion by the mother body,” the league members write – a valid concern since the league has long been used to fight the political battles of lobby groups in the mother body. The members also question whether the task team has any legitimacy or standing, and they say no terms of reference have been published. 

Members of the ANCYL crisis committee will therefore use the league’s birthday to ask for the disbandment of the task team and to have young people of the ANC “converge to discuss the plight of youth in South Africa and craft a way forward for the revival of the ANCYL as an organisation championing the interests of youth in the country”.

It’s difficult to imagine how the crisis committee will do this, as they themselves are an unelected structure, and it’s not clear who they represent. The group’s Western Cape representative, Luzuko Bashman, said they consist of “activists, members, leaders of the ANC Youth League in the country. What brings us together is common understanding of the principles of the organisation.” People were joining the group voluntarily, to take a stand, he said. 

Judging from the stand it’s taking on politics, the crisis committee is reactive. On its Facebook page, the group took a position on the Economic Freedom Fighters’ violent protests in front of Clicks stores after an offensive shampoo ad.

It condemned both “the crude display of the subtle racism that has gone uncontested in the South African advertising industry for many years” and the “vandalising and burning down Clicks stores” by the EFF. The committee bemoaned the fact that the “demise of the ANCYL” meant it wasn’t there to fight these struggles. Bashman said the stance of condemning the EFF’s violence didn’t make the crisis committee moderate, but rather progressive. 

The task team was to have organised a conference by May, but Besani blamed Covid-19 lockdown regulations for the failure to do so. He said the pandemic allowing, the conference was now due to happen at the end of March 2021. But, as Rebone Tau notes in her book entitled The Rise and Fall of the ANC Youth League (to be launched at a Daily Maverick webinar), a few attempts by the task team to convene meetings ended in violence and in Tshwane, with a member being shot dead. 

It appears, though, that some of the task team members themselves have lost faith in their assignment, like former youth league leader Fikile Mbalula, who tweeted this week:

“We must allow the youth to lead even if they are not democratically elected in a conference. We must find a political solution to this quacmire (sic). Good night cadres.” DM

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