YONELA DIKO: Are these the architects of the new ANC Youth League?

OPINION

The newly appointed, all women-led African National Congress National Youth League task team is full of promise and leads us to impose on them a question whether they are finally the true architects of a new ANC Youth League, different from the past task teams appointed since 2013 and certainly different from the past youth league, which measured its core relevance through antagonistic prisms with the mother body.

This is an interim body with the primary responsibility being to prepare youth league structures for their long overdue elective conference. Still, the interim structure possesses no less responsibility and glorious burden of leading young people, so much remains expected of them.

The first question this youth league will have to ask is what its place is in solving the class, gender and national contradictions as it confronts young people and what the ANC calls the National Democratic Revolution. The question should not fundamentally be about how young people slot themselves into the existing traditional economic, political and cultural spaces. Otherwise young people simply become a junior version of the old, perpetuating the acceptance of a fundamentally unfair South African society.

It should really be about a valiant attempt to transform the underlying systemic structures, breaking them down and building new ones that will give young people means to solve these contradictions.

READ: These are the 35 people tasked with reviving the ANC Youth League

What this means is that this youth league's mission has to be anchored by a full appreciation of the architecture of today's society, who the aristocracy of finance is, who the industrial bourgeoisie is, the middleclass, the petty bourgeoisie, the intelligentsia, the rural population and how power is spread and contested across these classes, and more importantly how to avoid an obvious contest among young people belonging to all these classes.

Without the appreciation of how power is spread and contested in today's society, even among young people, and without clarity on how the youth league will find its place and role within this maze, this assembly of capable young people will be chasing its tail daily, looking for trends of the day and how to stay in the headlines. After it's short stint, the fate of young people will be no better than when they took on this noble responsibility of reviving this critical and historic constitutional body of the ANC.

After a clear understanding of these conceptions and how they affect their march towards leading young people into this National Democratic Society, a society where young people can carve their own rightful place within the governance of their country, then this youth league would have completed its historic mission.

SETTING PRIORITIES FOR YOUTH ACTIVISM

Politics is largely a privilege of the urban population. This is both historic and unfortunate, but it's a product of access and concentration. Fortunately, South Africa is predicted to reach 70% of its population living in urban areas by 2030. In 24 years, over 25% of South Africans have moved to urban areas.

The result is young people have moved from rural to urban centres in search of a better shot at fulfilling their aspirations.

Unfortunately this move is informed primarily by the material conditions, the lack of opportunities in rural areas, the call of big cities and bright lights, and the desire to finally enjoy upward mobility and class shifts. Ideally, such a move should be informed by more than a desire to find a job or an education but to equip themselves for a much bigger and deeper change of society, particularly change in the communities from where they came.

The result is millions of young people in urban centres, some at universities, others in corporate South Africa and yet others in the streets as urban poor, all not anchored by any larger purpose so that beyond their work or school responsibilities, they are given to alcohol, drugs, the high and sometimes dangerous life of big cities.

This means as much as we must be dedicated to answering the material conditions of our young, a bigger question of purpose - what is it all for? - must be answered or youth success will become the very weapon that kills most of them. In many ways, this is the message deceased Anele Tembe's father was communicating after her death.

The primary task, therefore, is to make sure that the youth transition from rural to urban areas is met with an appreciation of purpose, otherwise a sue of self is inevitable.

For those who remain in the poor classes even as they transition, a sense of purpose will help them avoid being trapped in hopelessness, crime, tik, amid the unspeakable wealth of the urban rich. This transition must be planned and led by the youth league.

YOUTH SOLIDARITY

The triple threats of poverty, unemployment and inequality remain the real challenge for all South Africans. Young people seek to escape poverty through employment.

Young people want to continue to occupy corporate spaces, universities and Tvet colleges - spaces that used to exclude most of them. They want blacks to continue breaking through white strongholds as small business suppliers in predominantly white industries, and yes, the doors have slightly opened but as German playwright Bertold Brecht once said, the "bitch is still in heat".

Still, these young people may consider themselves as better blacks, trapped as they are in spaces that were not built for them. They may still consider themselves privileged being a handful of blacks in rooms full of whites. They may feel more anxious when the number of blacks start to rise, whites start resigning, and the places start to look like the world they have been running away from since their breakthrough. Naturally, a contest then between young people belonging in different classes emerges.

How do you form solidarity and a common fighting spirit among young people belonging to different classes of society and sometimes with conflicting and contending interests

COMMON ASPIRATIONS AND SHARED RESPONSIBILITY

It is true that unemployment is concentrated in the young, with 63.2% of those age between 14 and 24 unemployed. This is according to Stats SA as at February this year. This means they are not at school or in places of employment. 41.2% of those between 25 and 34 are unemployed.

This is an area where the youth league must be unequivocal about young people taking some responsibility. 52.3% of the 7.2 million unemployed people have education levels below matric. When you compare that with 7.5% unemployment of those with some tertiary qualifications and only 1.8% unemployment among those with university degrees it's clear that the task of youth league, if they are to increase chances of beating unemployment is to have a clear and aggressive programme of getting young people inside classrooms, first to matriculate and then to acquire tertiary qualifications.

Such battles to get young people inside classrooms must be accompanied by equally aggressive programmes of getting a transformed curriculum.

Ward Connerly, former regent at the University of California, remarked in David Horowitz's book, '“David Horowitz has single-handedly exposed the intellectual corruption that exists within the classrooms of American colleges. Like all forms of corruption, indoctrination flourishes when kept in the dark. Here, Horowitz turns on the bright lights to expose what has become profoundly wrong with our colleges and universities. We are all in his debt.” This is no different in South Africa

We want young people to pursue education with all their might, but we don't want them to be indoctrinated to be champions of a fundamentally flawed world that favors some and exclude others with ticks and biased expertise. We want education that wakes young people up and equips them to make a difference.

CONCLUSION

The fight for a better franchise for young people has to be driven by a larger purpose.

This youth league must lead young people as they search for work, for tertiary education, as they start businesses, seeking government support and this must be infused into a larger youth role in turning this country around.

The results are great, and all young people deserve them, but the process is harder and requires commitment and sacrifice.

I believe the youth league of Nonceba Mhlauli, Joy Maimela and others can infuse such values and guide young people into the national democratic society.

Yonela Diko is the former spokesperson to the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation. You can follow him on Twitter: @yonela_diko

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