MESULI KAMA: The Ashley Kriel Volunteers & rebuilding the ANCYL in struggle
“If you haven’t confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life. With confidence you have won even before you have started.” - Marcus Garvey.
South Africa and the world celebrated the life of African National Congress (ANC) president general Oliver Reginald Kayizana Tambo on 27 October, an occasion that commemorated 103 years since his birth. In South Africa, the event was marked by the unveiling of the statue of this giant and icon of the liberation movement at OR Tambo International Airport.
President general Tambo, who led the ANC from 1967 to 1991, belonged to the golden generation of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) that was at the forefront of the anti-apartheid struggle. Tambo and his generation did not only end with the internal capture of the ANC and militancy injection into its programme to fight against colonialism and apartheid, but they went on to lead the ANC for over five decades.
We continue to celebrate him and his generation posthumously, because while they may have departed the world of the living, their ideas live on. In the words of former President Nelson Mandela: “Let all of us who live say that while we live, the ideals for which Oliver Tambo lived, sacrificed and died will not die! Let all of us who live, say that while we live, Oliver Tambo will not die!”
Among many of Tambo's passions was the youth. He once posited that “The children of any nation are its future. A country, a movement, a person that doesn't value its youth and children doesn't deserve its future.”
As we celebrate the 103 years of his life, it is sad to see that his beloved movement, his comrades and those that he groomed into leadership in particular, are the ones that don’t value its youth.
As comrades continue to say the ideals for which president Tambo lived, sacrificed and died will not die while they live, equally they must unban the youth and free it from the shackles in which they're trapped.
Young people, both within the ANC and South Africa, constitute a critical demography. However, their influence on the country’s policy direction, internal ANC politics and national politics in general remains limited.
Youth in the ANC remains in a permanent pre-adulthood stage, where their primary role has been reduced to recipients of decisions, directives and patronage from the old guard.
Young people cannot mature enough to handle their own affairs with little to no involvement of the old guard – whose main interest in youth affairs is control and capture to the extent of deciding who gets to lead the structures of young people and giving them a mandate to execute.
The inability of young people to notice the poisonous influence of the old guard on youth affairs has resulted in the current state of affairs in the congress's youth league.
For many decades, successive generations of youth leaguers lacked courage to address this challenge. They auctioned the autonomy of the ANCYL to the highest bidder. For this reason, the old guard found it easy to reduce the ANCYL to a factional mouthpiece and an object to be used to advance their personal interests.
It has taken the current generation of youth leaguers to challenge this downward trajectory. It is this generation that has taken to the streets to demand an end to the systematic killing and taming of the once militant and vibrant congress youth league. The frustration of the current generation with the influence of old guard in body politics of the youth league can be seen in the calls to #UnbanTheYouth and #RejectEldership.
With Garvey's words, the confidence of the young people behind these calls is commendable. They have taken up the fight that many before them didn’t have confidence to take up.
While this generation of youth has progressively challenged the status quo and made a call on the ANC to unban the youth, it is also incumbent on this generation to take serious the thorough rebuilding of their ANC Youth League.
While young people yearn for a congress youth league that champions the interests of youth, we seem to be inward focused and fighting one another.
For instance, crime in South Africa, and the Western Cape in particular, is at high level, and has been escalating over the past few years. We read on a daily basis about serious violent crimes that make national headlines. Crime affects everyone, the rich and poor, in suburbs and the townships alike. Studies have found causal relations between crime and economic development. Crime does have an impact on the economy, and the poor economic development is one of the causes of crime.
In the Western Cape, unemployed youth are easy targets for gang recruitment and others have unfortunately ended up dealing in drugs. Government programmes have not been effective in terms of preventing this scourge, at the backdrop of this is the increasing unemployment rate which mostly affects young people.
We live in the Western Cape, where the inequality gap has widened since the Democratic Alliance assumed office, but we don’t hear the views of youth on how to address inequalities. We live and breathe racism on a daily basis, the demon of racism rears its ugly head even at schools, institutions that ought to shape the future, yet the congress youth league doesn’t have a programme to address this. Young people are targets of gender-based violence and femicide on a daily basis, yet young people are consumed in a battle to defend the interests of elders.
The rebuilding of the ANCYL should be in struggle, it should be demonstrated by its proposals and active response to challenges facing the youth. At the centre of these campaigns should be youth empowerment and total economic liberation of the oppressed.
When last did the ANCYL come up with proposals for economic development? At this current juncture, when South Africa is busy with economic reconstruction and recovery plans, we have to ask where are the views of young people on this? What are the views of young people on the economic policy of the country?
As we continue the fight to unban the youth, we should draw inspirations from the likes of the late comrade Ashley Kriel, an anti-apartheid martyr, a roaring young lion who was killed by the police in Cape Town. At the tender age of 20, this young man was identified by the apartheid government as an enemy and threat that needed to be eliminated. He had an astute political awareness and was dedicated to the cause to free his people from the bondages of apartheid colonialism.
The next step in the battle to unban the youth should be for all young people who are inspired by the revolutionary life of this martyr, a young activist, to organise themselves as the Ashley Kriel Volunteers who are committed to rebuilding the ANCYL in struggle; it should be defined by a youth development-centred programme of action, organising young people around their issues at grassroots level.
We need to build a generation of young people that is politically aware and knows the generational mission. This generation must vow never to allow young people to be used as pawns and toy soldiers in the battle of the elders. The apex priority should be to identify and isolate the puppets of elders that are amongst us.
The battle to unban youth must continue up until it is won. It should not just end with replacing the elders with youth - it must be accompanied by a revolutionary programme to advance the interests of youth and to rebuild and revive the congress youth league. The congress youth league should stop being used as a vehicle to advance the personal interests and ambitions of select few.
Like Kriel and the generation of youth in Bonteheuwel and the broader Cape, regardless of where we find ourselves economically, we echo their revolutionary words and say: Freedom or death. Victory is certain. Mayibuye iANCYL!!! Forward with economic freedom in our lifetime!!!
Mesuli Kama is a member of an expired ANCYL Western Cape provincial executive committee and writes in his personal capacity. Follow him on Twitter at @Mess_kama