Picture: EPA – Members of the ANC Youth League display a poster of one of its founders, OR Tambo, at a protest march to protect the ruling party’s Luthuli House headquarters in Johannesburg on, September 5, 2016. A militant youth is needed to prevent the ANC from sinking into terminal decline and irrelevance, says the writer.
By B Dikela Majuqwana
The ANC was founded in 1912 in the Union of South Africa under British colonial rule. It did not have a youth league until 1944. The idea of an ANC Youth League is attributed to Anton Lembede. He fashioned the idea together with Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, and others.
In 1943, they presented it to ANC president-general Dr Alfred Bitini Xuma (a medical doctor and specialist in tropical diseases). The league was established in 1944 after some resistance from Xuma and some of his peers. Xuma became president-general of the ANC in 1939 after persuasion by Rev James Calata to assume the role. Before this, he was operating his medical practice in downtown Johannesburg. Calata became secretary-general.
Throughout the 1930s, the ANC was largely rudderless and was hardly effective as a national movement under the leadership of Pixley Isaka kaSeme. Xuma’s administrative proficiency helped restore public confidence in the organisation and prepared it to receive growing numbers of youths at a time when there was a raging war, (World War II) against Fascism in Europe. This is the background that led to the original motivation for the ANC Youth League by Lembede and his peers.
These young African militants felt strongly that the ANC had become moribund and needed rejuvenation to respond to the growing threat presented by a militant white minority, especially the Afrikaners. They felt that there was a need for concentrated effort by the youth in opposing the colonial minority in the Union of South Africa – a dominion of Great Britain at the time.
When the National Party won elections in 1948 to set up its apartheid government, the league was already adequately prepared to engage in effective opposition. Many of its members were to become the generation that fought a hard, long struggle leading to the demise of apartheid and the National Party in 1994. The apartheid government decided to ban the ANC and all opposition by Africans in 1960, the same year that it declared an apartheid republic and independence from Great Britain.
This forced the ANC to operate underground and to go into exile. However, the youth league could not continue under these conditions. In exile, a youth section was maintained. When the ANC was unbanned in 1990, the youth league was revived, and Peter Mokaba became its first president. 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.
As a result, the ANC is closer to where it was during the 1930s, but now as a ruling party. While on the face of it, the ANC appears to have a national footprint, in reality, there is chaos, with many branches largely dysfunctional. Unfortunately, this chaos and dysfunction are sponsored by ANC leaders to protect themselves from the youth.
In the same vein, it will take courageous leadership to create conditions for youth to thrive inside and outside the ANC. For the youth league to thrive, it must be able to respond to events and 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.
A militant youth is needed to prevent the ANC from sinking into terminal decline and irrelevance. This is in the spirit of the generation of Lembede, Tambo, Mandela and their peers. South Africa is going through a period of challenges somewhat similar to those of the 1930s. World imperialism is throwing its weight all over the world. There is a war in Ukraine, where the Russian Federation launched a special military operation. At the same time, Western countries under the umbrella of Nato are funding Ukraine and supplying them with arms.
In South Africa, forces allied to the World Economic Forum (WEF) are openly siding with Western countries and are critical of the neutral stance taken by the government. This is against the background of an ANC that no longer openly champions the Freedom Charter to bring the commanding heights of the economy under state control and guidance for the benefit of the people as a whole.
On the home front, South Africa is without consistent electricity. Eskom has been rendered dysfunctional by an alliance of corrupt business and political interests. These same corrupt interests want Eskom to be privatised so that they can take ownership of it. An ANC Youth League that emerges must be alert to these shenanigans. “The youth shall be taught to love the people” is the patriotic spirit of the Freedom Charter that requires revival as a foundation for public policy.
From this, it follows that the youth must aim to reconstitute the South African economy based on national self-sufficiency in natural resources, science, technology, institutions, the financial system, among others. This is all the more important because of an increasingly aggressive West threatening to impose sanctions on South Africa for maintaining a historic alliance with the Russian Federation and other anti-imperialist nations.
Revitalising the ANC Youth League as a force to champion the Freedom Charter will be fruitless if it does not lead to a recognition of the limits of capitalist development and also does not put on the agenda the need for socialist ideals alongside the Freedom Charter. Such ideals go beyond the role of the state in the economy and place the working class at the centre. After all, the youth constitute a majority of the working class and also make up society’s most productive segment.
Prof B Dikela Majuqwana is a founding member of the National Union of Scientists and Engineers