The ANCYL congress from 4–6 September was the culmination of efforts to rebuild the league’s organisational machinery, as well as its political and ideological orientation to ‘’restore confidence’’ so it could continue to attract young people to the ANC’s ranks.
However, the run-up to the congress was marred by claims of irregular auditing processes and allegations of interference from top structures within the ruling party. A group of North West members even went to the High Court with an urgent application to stop the congress from going ahead. In his reaction, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, a former youth league president, warned that those members who had taken the ANCYL to court would “face the full wrath of ANC discipline”.
The election of a new leadership, including a new National Executive Committee (NEC), was another masterclass by Zuma and Company. Not only did the Eastern Cape and Gauteng – the leading anti-Zuma provinces – fail to nominate presidential candidates, they arrived at the congress divided and disorganised. In the end, the top five and the NEC were elected unopposed, something even the ANC Women’s League congress in August 2015 had not managed to do, although many delegates expressed dissatisfaction, saying the election process was unfair.
The election result means that the ANC, and specifically the Zuma camp, has finally rid the league’s top leadership of any possible Malema sympathizers, and has ensured a leadership cadre that will follow the wishes of the mother body. Most importantly, the new top five will assist the Zuma camp, including the so-called premier league, during the ANC’s elective conference in 2017. North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, Free State Premier Ace Magashule and Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza reportedly form the premier league – a furtive lobbyist group within the ANC that tries to ensure senior national positions for themselves, as well as for a president that can be ‘’trusted’’ by the Zuma camp. Sihle Zikalala, the ANC’s provincial secretary in KwaZulu-Natal, is reportedly also close to the three premiers – Zikalala is known to aspire to the position of ANC chairperson in KwaZulu-Natal – a spot currently held by the premier, Senzo Mchunu, who is increasingly distrusted by Zuma loyalists.
However, it remains to be seen if the youth league, post its elective congress, would stay on track to regain its autonomy and would inspire confidence in its capabilities to manage its own affairs and influence key policy discussions in the country. After all the clichés and entertainment at the conference, as well as the apparent show of unity, the new leadership must now show that they can deal with the real issues facing the youth – unemployment, poverty and inequality.
From the ANC’s point of view, a united and politically focused youth league is of the utmost importance, with local elections due in 2016, during which the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) will undoubtedly challenge the ANC’s prevailing position, especially in a number of metros.
Meanwhile, as the ANC moves closer to its elective conference in 2017, recent developments in the party must be causing the anti-Zuma camp a few more nightmares. Although Cyril Ramaphosa was cordially listened to at the league’s congress, there was certainly no sign of strong support for him. The fact that the Gauteng youth league all but imploded before the congress is another warning sign, as Gauteng will have to be the flag bearer for Ramaphosa between now and 2017, if he is to have any chance of stopping the KwaZulu-Natal juggernaut, which has now seemingly formed a solid alliance with the premiers of Mpumalanga, North West and the Free State.
The conference confirmed that the Zuma camp remains in charge of the ANC and that some of his loyalists would cross most political lines to have ‘’their’’ people in powerful positions. Although slow consensus is emerging that the Zuma camp is now pushing his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to become the next president, others warn that a third term as ANC president for Jacob Zuma is still ‘’being discussed’’. They add that Zuma’s supporters at the league’s conference also ‘’whispered’’ about this option.
However, the Zuma camp would be mistaken if they perceived the congress as an unconditional triumph: Nearly 700 delegates supported Ronald Lamola’s nomination from the floor (in theory, he was the main opponent to Collen Maine – the preferred candidate of the Zuma camp), suggesting that complete unity within the league has not been achieved; only one female candidate was elected to the top five and not a single female candidate was even nominated for the position of president or deputy president; Zuma himself did not receive anything like a striking welcome from the delegates; and the growing perception within and outside of the ANC that the organisation is being dominated by leaders from three or four provinces will be fed by the election outcome.
The conference and the election outcome might help restore the flailing political fortunes of Mbalula, as well as his Cabinet colleagues Nathi Mthethwa and Malusi Gigaba, as all of them have in recent years fallen out of favour with Zuma. However, it is unlikely that Zuma would reward them in any generous manner, unless he is of the opinion that they could help his camp secure a political victory in 2017.
Ironically, the final cleansing of the youth league of closet Malema devotees in its national leadership structures might be to the benefit of the EFF. The new, largely submissive and loyalist leadership might not have the political substance to prevent the EFF from further expanding its youth support – probably a greater threat to Zuma’s ANC than the DA’s Mmusi Maimane or, dare one say, the centrist policy direction in which Ramaphosa and the party’s Gauteng leadership are trying to steer the ruling party.
Some senior ANC leaders might be encouraged by the emergence from the conference of what seems to be a subservient leadership cadre, but as Julius Malema has shown, not everything always goes according to plan … DM
Dr Nel Marais is the managing director of Thabiti Africa Consultancy and a former intelligence officer.
"If you took the most ardent revolutionary vested him in absolute power within a year he would be worse than the Tsar himself." ~ Mikhail Bakunin