From the days of Anton Lembede to Peter Mokaba, the strategic role of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) within the ruling party has always been that of influencing policy direction, coming up with a programme of action and supporting revolutionaries to champion a radical change in the country.
Established in 1944 by Lembede, who became its first president, it was supported by young radicals like Nelson Mandela, Ashby Mda, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Duma Nokwe, James Njongweni, William Nkomo and Dan Tloome because the ANCYL galvanised the youth to step up the fight against apartheid.
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Despite the coming to power of the National Party (NP) in 1948, introducing oppressive laws towards blacks, the ANCYL forged ahead to adopt the Programme of Action, which championed the execution of the Defiance Campaign. The Bantu Education Act, Natives Representative Act and the Group Areas Act were among several apartheid laws targeted by the league that gained much influence in the ANC.
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“A brilliant and articulate young scholar,” was how author Luli Callinicos described Lembede in her biography of Tambo. Decades later – after the unbanning of the ANC – we saw the emergence of another courageous and radical: Peter Mokaba.
Like many before him, Mokaba endured the wrath of NP rule: detentions, conviction for underground activities of the ANC military wing, uMkhonto we Sizwe, and serving time on Robben Island. State repression also proved to be no deterrent as Mokaba continued the struggle for the ultimate birth of a country governed through a constitutional democracy.
Mokaba launched the SA Youth Congress in 1987, at the height the state of emergency, bringing together various youth formations, which became an affiliate of the United Democratic Front. After the unbanning of the ANC, Mokaba established and led a formidable ANCYL in 1990 – a milestone which reinvigorated the spirit of Tambo upon his arrival from exile.
“You relaunched the ANC Youth League – in that mammoth rally, which marked yet another landmark of great importance on our path to freedom,” Tambo said. “I wish to reassure you that I will forever remain one of your numbers. “Once a youth, forever a youth.”
If Tambo and Mandela were alive today, would they be speaking glowingly about the current ANCYL? As young people face such challenges as unemployment, drug abuse, crime – some dealing with dysfunctional families – where is the ANCYL to take up their cause? The disorganised and factional-ridden current crop of leaders have their priorities elsewhere.
If this week’s briefing by ANC electoral committee head Kgalema Motlanthe was anything to go by, the ANCYL is in tatters – merely existing as a “national task team” – with no status, similar to that of a province in the upcoming party national conference. This reflects a dead ANCYL. The league’s nomination of Dr Zweli Mkhize for ANC president at the all-important Nasrec gathering, will go down as meaningless in its attempt to tilt the scales against President Cyril Ramaphosa.
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According to ANC electoral committee secretary chief Livhuwani Matsila, the ANCYL nomination of Mkhize “amounts to a single nomination”.
Said Motlanthe: “We have a situation where the leagues of the ANC [ANCYL, ANC Women’s League and the Veterans’ League] are led by task teams. Ordinarily they would have to go through the same process as ANC structures.
“But given the status of the leagues now, they did not go through that process to give a nationally consolidated picture, to be accorded the same weight as that of a province.”
End of an era?