The time will come when the ANC will say to its young leaders: “Here is the torch; it is your turn to carry it forth.”
‘A country, a movement, a people, that does not value its youth, does not deserve its future’ – OR Tambo
Democracy is not dull, dated and passive, in fact it is quite the contrary – democratic regimes are expected to be lively and robust. A vibrant democracy therefore necessitates the need for the active involvement of the youth in its governing strategies. Democracy in all its glory is a dynamic and fluid process of collaboration between a government and its people.
The youth of a country remains an integral part of its democratic structures. Young leaders are best placed to suggest solutions to government about the issues that affect them and their communities. They have a range of ideas, thoughts and perspectives that can enrich decision making processes.
The only way to elicit these ideas and perspectives is through engagement with young people. Youth engagement goes beyond merely giving young people a voice. It is the commitment to ensure that the young people of South Africa are valued and that their contributions are respected, considered and acted upon. This also means providing a platform for the youth to be emancipated into future leaders.
In the pursuance of meaningful youth engagement and development of future leaders there must be a solid partnership between government and young leaders where together we build a sense of ownership of political decision-making and vision sharing. This partnership must be based on mutual respect and participation.
The role of the youth has proven to be of particular importance in democracies around the world and particularly in South Africa as a fledgling democracy. There is a dire need for the development of young people into astute leaders that can carry the banner of the African National Congress forward. Young political leaders are free of association with excesses of the past and political factions, and have often been prominent in demonstrations calling for an end to corruption and unfair political practices.
As we commemorate the 73rd anniversary of the ANC Youth League we must be reminded that some of the most important figures in the liberation movement were young men and women. Sol Plaatje and Pixley ka Seme assumed leadership positions in the South African Native National Congress when relatively young. The generation of young leaders who from the 1930s rose to prominence and dominated our political life for more than six decades includes Peter Mda, Anton Lembede, Yusuf Dadoo, Joe Slovo, Oliver Tambo, Albertina Sisulu, Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, Ray Alexander, Lilian Ngoyi, IB Tabata, and Robert Sobukwe.
They were followed in the 1970s by leaders such as Steve Biko and Rick Turner, who inspired the thousands of young people who played active roles in the Durban strikes of 1973 and the 1976 student uprising, events that brought about the changes that ultimately led to our freedom.
They showed that the youth had the power and impetus to change the face of the national liberation struggle. Memories of the 1976 Soweto uprising and the street battles of the 1980s conjure up depictions of the youth as the primary catalyst of activism and political change.
The youth of South Africa can indeed be a creative force to be reckoned with, a dynamic source of innovations, and they have undoubtedly, throughout history, participated, contributed, and even catalysed important changes in political systems, power-sharing dynamics and economic opportunities.
Young leaders of today must display a youthful political exuberance much like the giants who traversed this path before them – young, prominent leaders like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu whose commitment to serving the people took precedence over personal ambition and agendas. Their unwavering allegiance to the founding principles and values of the ANC remains unmatched. It is this calibre of young leaders that must rise up to restore the lustre of the ANC.
Young people must be educated. They must be influential and intellectual leaders who are determined to contribute to the future success of their country and its people. There is no room for self-enrichment and personal acquisition of amassed wealth when you are elected to serve the people.
Young people should speak with authority and assertiveness against corruption, factions and disunity in the ANC. They have a right as in the past to fight for accurate and authentic leadership in all structures of the ANC. Young leaders must ensure that come December a leader of strength, determination, ethical conduct and morality emerges as the new leader of the ANC. A leader that can pave the way for the future young leaders that will take over after 2022.
Young leaders must be in a state of readiness for the time will come when the elected leadership of the ANC will say, “Here is the torch; it is your turn to carry it forth.” In preparation of this day and in the current political climate there is a need to return to the document drafted in 2001 bearing the title Through the Eye of a Needle and remind ourselves what our forefathers had envisioned would be the characteristics of a leader of their great ANC. Young leaders who familiarise themselves with the contents of this document would be in good stead to realise their future political aspirations in the ANC as the document outlines the attributes that will help identify a true leader.
The title of the document is taken from the Book of Matthew chapter 19 verse 24 in the Bible. A rich young ruler asks Jesus what he needs to do to get to Heaven. Jesus tells him what to give up. The young man leaves because he is not prepared to give these things up, then Jesus says to the crowd, “And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
The needle Jesus was speaking of is not the same as the one you think of. Historians suggest that the “eye of a needle” Jesus spoke of was a gate in Jerusalem, which only opened after the main gate to the city was closed at night. A camel could only pass through a smaller gate if it was stooped and had its baggage removed and had to almost crawl to enter. Therefore, a leader should be willing to let go of his baggage (personal ambition and self-enrichment) in order to be worthy of leading the ANC.
The youth must take cognisance of the leadership qualities the document highlights as they are destined to ensure these qualities are evident in the future leaders of the ANC. One of the points the document makes is, “Those in leadership positions should unite and guide the movement to be at the head of the process of change. They should lead the movement in its mission to organise and inspire the masses to be their own liberators. They should lead the task of governance with diligence. And, together, they should reflect continuity of a revolutionary tradition and renewal which sustains the movement in the long term.”
In order for the ANC to remain politically relevant in the future it is imperative that an effective leader is elected to the helm of the ANC at the December elective conference. An effective leader always seeks a beneficial impact on others. This type of leader is committed to the development of those they lead. Young leaders must apprehend the principle that their greatest success will be what is built in the lives of the people they lead.
Point 35 of the document says, “A leader should constantly seek to improve his capacity to serve the people.” Point 37 of the document then goes on to say, “A leader should lead by example. He should be above reproach in his political and social conduct – as defined by our revolutionary morality.”
The leader of the ANC therefore must be an excellent example. The leader should act as a role model to ANC members and non-members alike. Leading a life that reflects commitment to the strategic goals of the national democratic revolution includes not only being free of corrupt practices; it also means actively fighting corruption.
The role of young leaders is among other things to first understand and then tackle certain phenomena that are relevant in this current day and age such as patriarchy, sexism, racism, unifying the party, political factions and eradicating morally reprehensible and corrupt behaviour that does not have a place in the future ANC that will be led by the youth of today.
Young people must take inspiration from those that have gone before; you may not have been there from the inception but you are here today! Today we may be fighting a battle of a different kind than that of our founding fathers years ago, but the struggle is just as important as theirs. Today we fight to maintain the integrity of the ANC. We fight to restore what they sacrificed their lives for. Youth must rise up the ranks of the ANC and take it to the future. DM
Zweli Mkhize is the Treasurer-General of the ANC and writes in his personal capacity.
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