MESULI KAMA: The ANC must unshackle the Youth League


Raphaël Botiveau, in his paper “The ANC Youth League or the Invention of a South African Youth Political Organisation”, argued that the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) - reinvented after the unbanning of political parties in the 1990s - was a new organisation that inherited its name from the previous organisation, created in 1944 by the founding generation of William Nkomo, Mxolisi Majombozi, Walter Sisulu, AP Mda, and Nelson Mandela.

The new organisation was re-launched on the basis of the South African Youth Congress (SAYCO), a group that embodied the uprising of the South African youth against apartheid during the 1980s, continues Botiveau. Some of the issues raised by Botiveau in that paper might explain why the ANCYL of today is a shadow of its former self.

When it merged with the Youth League, SAYCO let an important part of its independence go. Secondly, he states that the re-launch of the ANCYL was based on a dual legacy, which was to become the root of conflicts with its parent organisation following a dialectics of autonomy and independence.

This is the same conflict that confronts the Youth League today. As a result, ANCYL members concerned with the state of their organisation are mobilising for the disbandment of ANCYL provincial structures and for the National Youth task team (NYTT) - composed mainly of ANC NEC members - to be dissolved.

The NYTT was appointed in July 2019 following several protests by the "Revive the ANC Youth League Movement", which had charged that the then ANCYL NEC was unconstitutional as its term of office had lapsed and majority of the members were over the age of 35. The NYTT was originally given until January 2020 to organise a national elective congress of the ANCYL.

In September 2020, the 76th anniversary of the ANCYL, there is no single branch in good standing in line with the constitutional prescripts and what is expected of an active branch of the Youth League, and all provincial executive committees and task teams have been in office for longer than the stipulated term of office.

The ANCYL is at its weakest state since its formation. It is characterised by crass materialism and is position oriented. The elders have sometimes found it easy to capture the league by giving its leaders the positions and resources they desire. As a result, the ANCYL has lost its character of activism, militancy, discipline, and radicalism. These have been critical in achieving its tasks of mobilising young people behind the vision of the ANC and championing their interests. It is now operating as pawns that are used in the factional battles of ANC elders and slaves that are used to carry out the tasks of old people.

From the 1940s, the youth leaguers led the struggles for the ANC to self-correct and were always at the forefront of the fight against racial oppression and segregation.

This historical context should be a wake-up call to the current youth leaguers to safeguard their integrity and ensure the survival of the ANCYL. The current battles to save the soul of the ANCYL and the calls to unban the youth are sound and genuine, and must be a fight for the soul of the ANCYL rather than a battle for positions.

Today should not only be a day to make a case for disbandment of the NYTT, but it should be an opportunity for young people in the ANC to discuss the real challenges facing the ANCYL.

As we have seen with this intervention, we have a task team in office, which seems to be vocal in favour of issues supported by a particular faction of the ANC, and silent on all other matters affecting young people. It has been silent on many issues in the public discourse, including the issues of racism that have made national headlines, including the racism at Sean McCarthy Group and Clicks.

In order for a proper rebuilding to take place, the following should happen:
● Disband the ANC NYTT as there is no evidence of rebuilding taking place, and replace it with an ANC Youth League task Team constituted according to the ANCYL constitution and term of office.
● ANCYL task team to disband all executive structures existing outside their constitutional mandate and appoint new task teams according to the ANCYL constitution and term of office.
● Regional and ranch task teams to adopt no less than three campaigns of service delivery and in pursuit of economic freedom in our lifetime.
● Branch task teams to ensure that all wards they exist in have youth orientated Cooperative(s) which should be directed by not only ANC aligned young people.
● Building of constitutional branches and elective congresses to be a product of an active ANCYL that organise and mobilises young people around their issues.
● Regional task teams to convene youth assemblies which should be held at different sub-regions at least once per quarter.
● All appointed ANCYL task teams to submit monthly reports on its activities to the ANC. In turn the ANC should also produce reports on how are they actively supporting the rebuilding of the Youth League.
● All task team members at all levels to be enrolled in the Oliver Tambo School of Leadership, and that the school adds a special educational programme that will politically equip these young people to perform their tasks.

If the ANCYL is the political preparatory school for future leaders of the ANC, then young people must be given an opportunity to fight, produce and learn through them leading their organisation. Therefore the NYTT must be disbanded now.

Mesuli Kama is a member of the ANCYL Western Cape Provincial Executive Committee and writes in his personal capacity. You can follow him on Twitter on @Mess_kama