Hijacking strategy

2011-06-04 09:01

It is for good reason that many minds will focus on the upcoming ANC Youth League national congress because its outcome will have far-reaching consequences for the future of its mother party.

Ever since Julius Malema was elected to lead the youth league in 2008, he has harked back to a chapter in struggle history when the league, still in its infancy, all but hijacked the ANC.

And Malema’s actions these past three years reveal an undeniable intent to do the same again now.When the league was founded in 1944, the ANC was “politically in midnight slumber”, as the late Govan Mbeki put it at the time.

So a group of young men – among them Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and Anton Lembede – took it upon themselves to take action and founded the league, driving their project on the back of African nationalism.

Educated and elite, they were also militant and, with Lembede at the helm, they preached about the need for Africans to recognise that Africa was a black man’s continent that was being drowned out by a black inferiority complex.

The then ANC president, Dr Alfred B Xuma, harboured reservations about their militant outlook, yet he was also aware that the ANC was ­begging for change.

But neither he nor anyone else could have foretold the impact the league would have on the ANC’s ranks – then and now.

The whites-only election in 1948 ushered in the architects of apartheid and, that ­December, at the ANC’s yearly conference, the youth presented their fight-back plan. It was accepted a year later and essentially became the blueprint to challenge apartheid.

It was also at the ANC’s conference in 1949 that Sisulu became secretary-general of the ANC, while five of his youth league colleagues joined him on the party’s executive committee.

In that year, the youth in effect began taking control of the ANC.

Seven decades later, Malema is rolling back the clock as he interprets the events of the 1940s to suit his own aims today.

Like his forebears, he is bent on reviving a militant outlook on political life. He speaks beyond his own constituency of the youth and to the masses.

When Malema harps on about nationalisation, he is talking about the second stage of the so-called national democratic revolution, which is socioeconomic freedom.

The first step, political freedom, was what his forebears embarked on in 1949 and which gave them the licence to take control of the ANC as they did.

As young African nationalists, they had an obvious enemy in the National Party.

But the nationalist in Malema has found his enemy not in the ruling party, but in the lack of transformation across many sectors of society, which ironically is an indictment of the party to which he belongs.

Plus, he has found the opportunity to build his profile in what has become a divided ANC, because it is only a weak party that could have indulged him in this way in the first place.

But he’s not there yet.

During a statement earlier this year, President Jacob Zuma presented Malema with a challenge, saying: “Political emancipation without economic transformation is meaningless.

That is why we have to commit ourselves to ­economic freedom in our lifetime, and the ANC must continue to be at the forefront of that transformation.”

He was telling Malema it’s not the end goal that matters, but the means by which one gets there.

Malema turned around and gave Zuma an even bigger challenge when he trumped him during the ANC’s ­local government election campaign, in effect becoming the new face of the ANC.

In doing so, he made next week’s congress less about the youth and more about the direction the ANC could face.

It’s about taking over the party – 1949 all over again.But it’s not a forgone conclusion. Malema stands a solid chance of securing himself a second term next week, but if he does, it’s then that his real battles will begin.

He will have to secure a majority backing for the man he will back for the presidency.

And Malema is not the only one who wants a slice of the bigger cake. 

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