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Blame ANC for Youth League’s ideological impact

Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for Daily Maverick. His other work interests also include motoring, music and technology, for which he has some awards. In a previous life, he drove forklift trucks, hosted radio shows, waited tables, and was once bitten by a large monitor lizard on his ankle. It hurt a lot. Arsenal Football Club is his only permanent obsession. He appears in these pages as a political correspondent.

At its 24th national congress, the ANC Youth League made it clear nationalisation of mines and expropriation of land without compensation would become focal points. The chances of its ideas becoming the dominating ideology of the ANC – and thus the country – are greater than ever before. This is an indictment of the ANC’s current intellectual weakness and disorganisation.

ANCYL spokesman Floyd Shivambu presented what may become the most important discussion document to come out of the League’s national congress, entitled “Programme of Action for Economic Freedom in Our Lifetime”. The document calls for the ANC to adopt its plans for the nationalisation of mines and as well as the scrapping the current willing-buyer-willing-seller land redistribution programme of the ANC.

“This conference must make sure that the ANC review the willing buyer willing seller which has failed,” Shivambu said. “The nationalisation of mines and the confiscating of land becomes a reality.”

While this was an elective conference of the League, the biggest impact it will have is in what the youth body plans to present to the ruling ANC party.

To put it another way, and to paraphrase that great observer of South African politics Stephen Grootes, the 2012 ANCYL elective conference was never about Julius Malema vs Lebogang Maile. It was about Julius Malema vs Jacob Zuma. The ANCYL’s internal machinations were never at issue.

Here’s the bit where we all should sit up and take notice. The Youth League is currently united behind its leadership (which is to say that Malema controls everything) and it will present a committed and powerful lobby to the ANC. The parent body, on the other hand, simply will not have that powerful single voice.

What is the ANC’s policy on agriculture, industrialisation and the tertiary sector? What do they want the country to look like in 2040, and more importantly, how are we to get there? What are the key thrusts of the New Growth Path? Do South Africans know this plan?

The ANC is almost completely mum on the economic front because principled policy making has fallen by the way in the party’s internal unrest. This disappointing lack of a strong direction in economics is a symptom of a party that has lost its long-term thinking to short-term political wants and factionalism. Polokwane never really ended; policy and public service are no longer important.

Every so often, when the ANC Youth League raises the issue of nationalisation of mines, expropriation without compensation and other areas where it differs from the ANC’s policies, Gwede Mantashe or the relevant cabinet minister will issue a statement saying that ANCYL policy is not ANC policy and though it can be discussed, investors, foreign and domestic, shouldn’t start shopping around for safer options elsewhere.

This happens because whenever the ANCYL discusses economic issues, it is shouting in an empty room.  How it should happen is that the Communist Party, the various affiliates of Cosatu and the affiliates of the ANC should all be presenting their ideas as mandated by their members and accented by each organisation’s tradition. And as it always has, the ANCYL has been very radical. That’s its tradition. That is where it has wielded influence. However, it finds itself literally speaking uninterrupted on economic issues. That is a fault we cannot blame on the ANCYL. Where are the tempering voices, the dissenting opinions and the organisation-wide robust debate?

Here’s the masterstroke of Malema: he knows he’s not fighting a battle for “right” or against “wrong”. Disproving the dissenters and presenting a stronger argument isn’t for him. Rather, he knows that the way to win is to get enough ANC delegates on his side. He uses inescapable truths about South Africa for his own purpose.

This is what should worry us more than anything. Even the most capitalist countries in the world have radical elements within them – but they are tempered by other views. In South Africa right now, the intellectual poverty of the ANC means that the view of the loudest is the one that will rule. Malema is going to test and see whether his complete dominance of the Youth League caucus will mean he’s strong enough to bulldoze his views through the ANC’s structures.

I don’t believe we will ever return to a pre-Polokwane ANC. One day, when everyone tires of the political upheavals wrought by factional politics, they will once again turn to a domineering leader. That may well be Malema. The old all-encompassing, genial ANC is gone forever. In the meantime, Malema will exploit this critical weakness to get what he wants. DM


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