This is not the first time the ANC has had a huge leadership crisis involving its President. Former President Thabo Mbeki was one of many ANC presidents that was removed by internal detractors for interference, stubbornness, centralisation of power and/or non-progressiveness.
In times of changing opinions within the movement, senior leaders, like Pixley ka Isaka Seme, also found themselves being forced out of key leadership positions for similar faults.
Whether reasons for their removal were justified or not is inconsequential. What matters is that the ANC as a political organisation was, until 2008, able to discipline and remove its highest office-holder when it needed and saw it appropriate to do so.
Almost every time in history, leadership crises of the ANC have been caused by rigid old men, who do not want to be told what the right thing to do is, leaders who fail to gauge the changing direction of where the wind is blowing in terms of ideas, the mood of the constituency and their basic and material needs.
Anton Lembede, one of the key founders of the African National Congress Youth League, and Nelson Mandela, one of the key founders of Umkhonto weSizwe, were not given the ANC on a silver platter, thanks to the aloofness of the old generation of leaders.
They and many other young leaders of their generation and generations after that had to fight and throw themselves in the line of fire and face the wrath of the old guard to eventually set the necessary trajectory for the ANC as a mass party.
Much is written about the ANCYL driving the discussions that led to the decision to radicalise the liberation struggle which later evolved into armed struggle.
The biggest challenge now is that the leadership crisis comes at a time when the entire ANC leadership’s credibility is severely compromised with serving Cabinet ministers crying about smallanyana skeletons and telling South Africans that they will just pick up the falling rand. What kind of a leader says that! Just recently a senior NEC member revealed that a colleague owns a 13-bedroom house and called for a lifestyle audit. Instead everyone turned a blind eye.
Regrettably the ANCYL is weaker than it has ever been since its founding by Lembede who shook up the lethargic leadership. This is the tragedy of it all considering that even the founding of the ANC itself was agitated for by the young Seme who called all the oppressed to rally behind a course of a Parliament of the people – the ANC (today the same masses are rebelling against their own Parliament while the leadership looks on).
The ANCYL has never been this irrelevant to the broad party machinery. Currently they are in no position to impart any meaningful influence.
Its last action of “glory” was at the 2007 Polokwane conference where they were key endorsers of then presidency candidate, Jacob Zuma. It tried to revert to its historic mission of radicalising the ANC by bringing back to the fore the nationalisation debate. As we all know, that leadership was rudely ejected from the ranks of the ANC. Now wearing red berets, they continued this radical line of thinking and for some force of persuasion or populism, we now see the ANC leadership talking exploration without compensation.
It is thus unfortunate that the ANCYL may be campaigning for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma come the National Conference in December 2017. All that negativity synonymous with Collen Maine and his close links to the Premier League will reduce her chances to emerge a victor. He stands for nothing, this old-young man. Zero of his ideas inspire us. He is not even implementing the resolutions of the congress where he was elected.
The ANC is having a leadership crisis caused by old men and women, an irrelevant youth league and a women’s league that is complicit in perpetuating the crisis instead of calling for its end.
Everyone knows Maine is not a genuine, values-driven, militant leader. At most he is just a howler who is not brave enough to influence progressive policies or provide upright leadership steeped in the revolutionary morality our ANC urgently requires. His legacy will be that of an incompetent minion, a flagbearer of conspicuous consumption and factionalism. Maine divides us instead of uniting and leading us as mandated by hundreds of branches. He is a terrible mistake in the history of the ANCYL.
I can’t help but imagine an ANCYL led by the young Nompendulo Mkhatshwa from Wits SRC or Comrade Gugu Ndima. Just imagine where the league would be if it embraced those pioneers of the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movements.
Imagine the ANCWL led by Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams or Ayanda Dlodlo. How much clearer can an ANC leader get than Ayanda Dlodlo who seems humble, knowledgeable and respectful of the public she represents.
We also know for a fact that many of those bright young black DA leaders who debated the State of the Nation Address are actually not DA. They are disgruntled ANC supported and members who ran to the arms of the opposition due to our own misleadership.
If these were the ANCYL and ANCWL leaders, there’s no doubt the ANC would retain its status as a leader of society, not just its card-carrying members and voters. The idea of a united and democratic SA remains the ANC. When it divides SA the idea of SA itself is shaken. They must unite us, not divide us.
But the most important question is: Would President Zuma have succumbed to internal pressures to resign by now if the leaders of these big parts of the ANC supported by their large constituencies, for instance, had been on the side of national interest and preserving the moral image of the organisation rather than that of internal party politics?
Mature revolutionary consciousness is an important quality to possess in leadership because it enables a leader to do what is right for the country and the ANC.
The thing about strong, relevant youth leaders is that they do not compromise their conscience and morality. They never aim to please incumbents at the expense of their constituencies on the ground.
We know this because during the #FeesMustFall negotiations we saw that as Wits SRC President, Mkhatshwa, walked out of a televised meeting with a very out of touch Minister of Higher Education and Training. I mean, this was unheard of, an ANC junior at SRC level stands up and rubbishes a minister’s effort to legitimise his inefficient leadership and non-delivery through her personality and leadership at the expense of thousands of students she was representing.
If you have forgotten that day, Mkhatshwa told the minister he was wasting her time and every student’s time by refusing to make solid commitment to students who needed answers.
She showed her leadership not by howling but by proper engagement and respectfully refusing to be roped into a talk shop that was deviating from the mandate set by the broad student body. This is something we’ve been seriously missing in South African politics – a youth leadership that is militant enough to respectfully refuse to be sell-outs to their constituencies and all South Africans.
I believe if we had strong a ANCYL and a dynamic ANCWL leadership these past few years, considering the complicity of the NEC of the ANC, President Zuma would have long been a former president, simply because young people are not wowed by Struggle credentials, nor do they harbour sentiments of celebrating Struggle contributions of either jail or exile time of which most of the current leaders are arrested by. The obsession with those who perpetuate patronage and corruption that stems from sentimentality of “who did what” taints the ability to take hard decisions to remove leaders who no longer serve the best interest of broad society.
Young people are conscious of history as well as the present and future they will inherit. Young people are disillusioned and have disallowed being spoken for and spoken to. They are now deciding for themselves what is urgent. How many years you spent on Robben Island is irrelevant to young people if you do not speak the language of land expropriation without compensation, radical economic transformation (not state capture and patronage), radical education reforms, anti-racism, NHI and anti-corruption.
We are wowed by action that inspires real change – we want quality education for liberation, not servitude.
But the current crop of youth leaders have not championed this, instead they endorse expensive nuclear energy deals which will damage our ecosystems and make us debt slaves for many decades.
The intellectual, militant, revolutionary and brave young people need to stand up and take back the ANC. It is that simple! We can’t possibly be expected to sit back and watch the oldest liberation movement in Africa get torn apart and be looted by arrogant, corrupt and irrelevant old people who have failed time and time again to retain public trust and credibility.
Considering the current wave of political crises that has hit South Africa in reply to Zama’s Cabinet reshuffle, and the economic crisis that is mounting, I will borrow from Aubrey Matshiqi’s analysis: “The ANC is where it is now because leaders stood by, said nothing and did nothing when it suited them to defend Zuma, it is through their efforts that he was installed as president of the ANC in 2007 and subsequently South Africa in 2009 … And now they want to occupy the frontline in the rebellion against him.”
This must not be allowed! The youth of the ANC must not make the same mistake of failing society.
I strongly agree with Matshiqi. The crisis and blame must be collectively shared, the old guard must admit to their faults and weaknesses, then open the space for credible revolutionary youth leaders to rediscover the moral compass of the organisation and set it on course for liberation.
It is time yet again that the youth take back the ANC from poisonous party elders. Mandela and Lembede should serve as our inspiration. Old men must just be forced to step aside or risk being on the wrong side of history. History will judge us accordingly. DM
Ngcaweni is a research intern at Mistra and honours student at Unisa. These views are private