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Can a reborn ANCYL breathe life into its dying mother body?

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Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)/July 2, 2023 – President Cyril Ramaphosa speaking during the 26th ANCYL conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre, Johannesburg. Ramaphosa appears bullish about the new ANCYL, the writer says.

By Kim Heller

In 2019, Rebone Tau, author of The Rise and Fall of the ANCYL, penned an open letter to the National Executive Committee of the ANC on the poor state of the youth league. Tau, now a former member of the ANCYL wrote that all was not well in the organisation. “We are no longer in touch with the people on the ground” Tau wrote. “Branches of the youth league are dysfunctional and not programme-driven … factionalism and gatekeeping have become the order of the day.”

Tau wrote of how, since 2012, the historic mission of the ANCYL “which is to mobilise and rally the youth behind the ANC, and to champion the interests of young people of South Africa” was forsaken. She contended that the focus had shifted to “mobilising and rallying the youth behind factions of the ANC, and championing the interests of an old guard that has always been contemptuous of young people of South Africa.”

The ANCYL which celebrates its 80th anniversary next year, appears to have lost its focus, fire, and fury when then president Julius Malema was expelled in 2012.

In her recent opinion piece, author, and scholar, Malaika Mahlatsi writes that “The ANCYL that Malema left was a shadow of its former self. The organisation had once been the voice of young people like me – Black working-class youth who had been hurled at the margins by a capitalist system that dehumanises and decivilises. It had fought militantly, organising not only on the streets, but winning the battle of ideas in a conservative and backward polity that was irritated by new ideas from young people” She continues “In the wake of Malema’s departure, the ANCYL became uninspiring in both form and substance. And for years to come, it would find itself battling an existential crisis.”

A similar perspective was shared by academic and columnist, Pedro Mzileni, who wrote that Julius Malema left with the soul of ANC Youth League. He argues that “The once vibrant youth structure lost its touch within South African politics and stopped resonating well with the youth” Mzileni writes that “Young people are tired of rhetoric and demand fundamental change in their lives.”

Once a vital and vibrant bastion of ideological exploration and expression as well as leadership development, the youth league has all but collapsed over the last decade. For the last eight years, the ANCYL has not held an electoral conference.

Picture: Itumeleng English / African News Agency (ANA)/Taken June 28, 2023 – ANCYL’s deputy convener Fasiha Hassan, says it is time for the youth league to reclaim its rights and powers.

This month saw the election of a new ANCYL leadership. In his recent thought piece entitled ‘Restoring ANC Youth League to former glory a tough task,’ Professor B Dikela Majuqwana writes, “There has been no effective Youth League in the ANC since the expulsion of Julius Malema in 2012. Various schemes have been set up by the ANC leadership to try to pacify the youth not to be critical of bad leadership. All these schemes have had the effect of demobilising the youth” The Professor continues “In order for the Youth League to thrive, it must be able to respond to events and to shape the national agenda for change. If needs be, it must be able to do so even when this causes displeasure to the leadership as long as the discipline of the ANC is maintained.” He writes that the ANC will sink into terminal decline and irrelevance without a militant youth body.

The newly elected leadership of the organisation faces a difficult, if not impossible task, in sparking enthusiasm and trust among young voters. The rebirth of the ANCYL comes at a time when South Africa’s youth is facing an extraordinarily difficult time. Delivering the ANCYL’s political report, the Deputy convener of the ANCYL, Fasiha Hassan, spoke of the struggle of young people to find jobs and described the youth unemployment rate of 46.5 percent as a national crisis. Hassan spoke of the need for the youth to reclaim their voice in society.

Her words echo the sentiments of former President Nelson Mandela who said, “To the youth of today, I also have a wish to make – be the scriptwriters of your destiny and feature yourselves as stars that showed the way towards a brighter future.”

If the ANCYL is to be a light tower for the youth and lead young South Africans into a better and brighter tomorrow, it needs to place the needs of youth first and foremost. The ANCYL cannot be the loudhailer of the elders in the ANC, if it hopes to be a beacon of hope for the young generation. It must find its own authentic voice; one in tune with young South Africans. It also cannot merely surrender to the unworkable policies of the mother body which have failed to nurture a prosperous youth. The only path to true renewal of the ANCYL is for it to be beholden to serving the youth, abundant in ideas and rich in action and delivery. The ANCYL needs to be all the things that the ANC is not. The mettle of the reborn ANCYL, and the might of its new “young lions” will be tested over the next few months as the ANC heads into what will surely be the most fiercely contested national election it has faced.

If the youth league’s new pride of lions gets embroiled in cowardly ANC factional wars rather than valiantly fighting the real battles of young South Africans, the story of this ANCYL will be one of lambs to the slaughter.

The league’s newly elected second deputy secretary, Tsakani Shiviti, spoke of how young people across the nation will be mobilised to rebuild the youth structure. “As young people, we are the ones who should protect the ANC.” And President Cyril Ramaphosa appears bullish about the new ANCYL.

Speaking after the ANCYL conference, the President said: “We have been missing the youth action in the various activities of the ANC especially when it comes to elections.”

The President urged the ANCYL to spearhead the ANC’s election campaign and to focus on getting young people to vote. The message from the President was clear: ‘You are required to mobilise for the decisive victory of the ANC.”

In the reborn ANCYL, President Cyril Ramaphosa sees a fresh battalion of soldiers for frontline battles. He is now abdicating the responsibility of winning the hearts and minds of South Africa’s young citizens to the newly formed ANCYL. If it is to be a true, legitimate force for positive change for South Africa’s youth, the ANCYL will need to be a strong, potent pride of lions rather than tame, caged pussycats in the keep of the President and the Party.

Nelson Mandela said “Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”

Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa’.

This article was written exclusively for The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.