Opinionista Lebo Keswa 8 September 2015

ANCYL needs to rediscover its own voice

Cyril Ramaphosa spent his time defending President Jacob Zuma's message at the African National Congress Youth League conference, while Msholozi called on the league to insult opponents of the ANC and label them counter-revolutionary. These messages simply mean the ANC would rather have a youth league that is more externally focused than one that would seek to 'dictate' to the party on policy. This is the exact opposite of what Nelson Mandela's ANC did.

So the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) conference has finally happened. In the past such conferences were awaited with anticipation as the youth league was the so-called kingmaker, able to make or break the ANC leadership. Such days are sadly gone as the conference failed to inspire South Africa’s youth who are saddled with unemployment and wallowing in poverty and neglect. The conference was dominated by fights for leadership in typical ANC style, with shenanigans over money for votes and vote manipulation. Of course, this will promptly be denied by all and sundry so nothing new there.

So overall a non-impressive show by the young lions who ceased to roar long ago. Sadly, it’s a fact that the last time the ANCYL had any impact on our body politics was when Julius Malema was in charge. That leadership shook the ANC to its core, challenging the party on the central issue of economic freedom. That is an indisputable fact and that challenge stirs every young person. This should in fact be the sole reason for the existence for any relevant political formation that thinks it can win the hearts and minds of young people.

I doubt very much that the current youth leadership has what it takes to follow up on what its predecessor sought to do. My reasons are simple let’s explore a few.

1. The current leadership was created by the ANC in its own factional image.

For any formation of young people to be radical and proactive, challenging and taken seriously it cannot be a product of the very leadership that it must challenge. The fact that the ANC had to dissolve a task team led by young people after it failed to deliver a congress after the managing mandate and resurrect old ancestors of the eagle, such as Fikile Mbalula and Nkosinathi Nhleko, shows the party’s desperation to manipulate the outcomes of that process. It was shocking to hear Mbalula predicting who would win even before the nominations were formally opened. This was a clear manipulation of the process no matter how it is dressed up. The rumour doing the rounds is that the so-called premier league have influenced and funded the campaign of Collen Maine, who has no profile whatsoever even in his own province and is a failed MEC who would probably make way for another factional deployed when he resigns to take up his job as ANCYL president. It is astounding that the Grade 11 dropout was the best person the ANC top brass could deploy in this crucial position to woo young people who need role models to look up to and are presented with people who either have not bothered to study or fake their qualifications.

Of course politics is not an exact science and we have to read between the lines half the time. So please do not shoot me but this is the writing on the wall.

2. The ANC leadership wants a moribund and obedient youth league.

The speeches of both the ANC president and deputy president let slip what kind of youth leadership the ANC is looking for. A leadership that is not ‘rude’ to them and that would ‘defend the ANC against insults’ from ‘counter-revolutionaries’. While Cyril Ramaphosa spent time defending President Jacob Zuma’s message, Msholozi called on the youth league to insult opponents of the ANC and label them counter-revolutionary. Never in any text book of leadership does a parent call on his kids to disrespect others and misbehave. These messages, decoded, simply mean that the ANC would rather have a youth league that is more externally focused than one that would seek to ‘dictate’ to the ANC on policy. This is the exact opposite of what Nelson Mandela’s ANC did … forcing the mother body to change course and eventually pursuing the armed struggle. In 2015 we are fast approaching a toothless situation in the name of closing ranks. The youth league is indeed already a shadow of its former self.

3. The ANCYL has no charismatic leadership with a programme.

The last time the youth league made any noise is so long ago no one seems to recall it. But if you close your eyes you will remember Malema and Floyd Shivambu as the last voices of the ANCYL. There is currently no one to replace them. The debate on the generational mix is all but dead and the youth league has 35-year-olds who are refusing to surrender their youthfulness. The opposition, meanwhile, are led by thirtysomethings at the highest levels. The ANC has yet to promote a serious youthful contender and has instead promoted old people who are uninspiring. This bodes ill for the party’s prospects of winning the youth vote and it can only please the opposition.

These three reasons alone will be the demise of the ANCYL. To reverse these will take some doing

So what must happen now? The ANC parent body must butt out of the youth league’s affairs and allow it to develop its own trajectory if it is to regain credibility amongst the SA’s growing youth population. The league must be allowed to develop an independent and radical programme that will question the current downward spiral of the ANC and not blindly ‘defend the ANC’. Blind defence is fast losing its currency amongst the voting population and those loyal to the ANC are yearning for a new voice within the movement that will rescue it from looming electoral disasters. It is not too late, but the way things look it will be a long time before the current ANCYL leadership can fill the vacuum Malema left in his wake. Calling on the youth to be a barking dog for the aging ANC leadership is a disastrous message that the ANC leadership has sought to achieve by its blatant interference in the affairs of the league since Mangaung.

Good luck to the new leadership … but the odds are stacked against them. DM

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