Saving the SA dream

2014-08-25 06:45

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The ANC Youth League is supposed to be the second layer of our leadership, but these days the organisation is little more than a lame duck, writes Benedict Dube

The late playwright, philosopher and former president of the Czech Republic, Václav Havel, cautioned that “lying can never save us from another lie”.

Thus, those of us embarrassed by the parlous state of affairs in today’s ANC Youth League should take extra care to avoid “brain fog” – fuzzy thinking and memory loss – when recalling the Thabo Mbeki years.

The inconvenient truth even the official opposition was keen to avoid is that Mbeki and Jacob Zuma were two peas in a pod until the dawn of this millennium.

And it was their divergence and rivalry that opened a pernicious Pandora’s box of impunity in our political culture.

Both men need to take individual responsibility for the prevailing sense of discord and distrust in the youth league.

The self-destructiveness demonstrated by their personal ambitions is also proving to be an intergenerational punishment and a betrayal of young South Africans’ hopes and dreams for a better future.

Almost all points of analysis converge on the probability that the slate (group) culture was introduced and perfected in the ANC in the course of the league’s 21st conference that took place in Mangaung in 2001. This is where the youth league was gobbled by its mother body.

The conclusion of Malusi Gigaba’s presidential report laid bare the disturbing relationship the ANC was clandestinely crafting with its youth league when he said: “As veterans, we trust that you shall not fail to fairly criticise our actions, advice, support and guide us throughout the cause of our journey, rather than interact with us only when congresses are near and you have opinions about who should occupy what leadership position.”

Albeit Gigaba’s plea was on behalf of the league, there was a dominant distrust that the then ANC president, Mbeki, was favouring a certain slate that comprised Gigaba, Fikile Mbalula and Rubben Mohlaloga compared with that of David Makhura, Jacob Mamabolo, Kenny Fihla and Tshilidzi Ratshitanga.

It is well known that towards the infamous 52nd ANC national conference in Polokwane in 2007, the league became the focus of much attention. As the Mbeki and Zuma camps jostled to court them as a mobilising agent, youth league chest-beating grew more pronounced.

With Mbeki overthrown, and intoxicated by their new power, they crowned themselves “kingmakers”.

We know now – through Julius Malema’s political exile and subsequent reincarnation as the ANC’s political bête noire in the form of the Economic Freedom Fighters – that they were never kingmakers. Instead, they were “condoms” to be discarded after use.

Why are youth leaguers still willing to be manipulated by those seeking the highest positions in the ANC?

In the early decades of democracy in the US, James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights and fourth president of that country, observed: “The essence of government is power, and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.”

This maxim explains much of the league’s complicity in the corruption of its mother body.

The insatiable lust for material accumulation, clamouring for social status and grandiose delusions facilitated by the post-apartheid political transition altered the ANC’s character.

At the same time, the apple does not fall far from the tree.

The youth league, as the entry point and political testing ground for ANC cadres, was likewise transformed into a den of scoundrels.

The sequence of events of the past 10 years illustrates that in the youth league, a dangling carrot is reachable.

We have seen people who punch below the belt being “rewarded” with government and Cabinet positions.

Policy articulation and intellectual development of the organisation are no longer prerequisites to lead. The league should not celebrate by counting numbers of Cabinet ministers, MECs and premiers from its membership.

Rather, it needs to judge their value to South African society in relation to their contribution to the public discourse, as well as the intellectual sphere and the entrepreneurial sector.

The power that makes one free is not vested in government, but is in the hands of those who generate knowledge, safeguard the impartiality of our public institutions and command the means of production.

Sadly, for the past 20 years, we have not seen any intellectual intervention or the formation of new political perspectives being crafted by youth league members.

Who shall rescue the youth league from “turning and turning in the widening gyre”? We all know that the falcon has been betrayed by the falconer. Surely that is why things have fallen apart. The centre is no longer holding.

Even Mbeki now acknowledges the correlation between the ANC’s decline and the general drift of South African society. In a repentant tone, he delivered the 2012 Oliver Tambo Memorial Lecture at the University of Fort Hare, saying: “Our beloved motherland is losing its sense of direction, and we are allowing ourselves to progress towards a costly disaster of a protracted and endemic general crisis.”

He appealed for soul-searching to steer it back on course. Mbeki’s confession, as a representative of his generation, that they have failed, necessitates the reincarnation of Tambo’s thundering call that once reverberated in all corners of the world: “Roar, young lions, roar!”

The hour has come – especially for those who once led and participated in the intellectual movements of the league and other youth organisations in the 1990s – to reposition, redefine and contextualise the strategy and tactics of the ANC.

The youth league must heed Khalil Gibran’s warning: “If it is a despot you would dethrone, see first that his throne erected within you is destroyed.”

It must be a priority for the league to excise the malignant system, introduced by Mbeki and nurtured by Zuma, that has reproduced factionalism and venality, while simultaneously hollowing out the organisation.

Let all those young lions, who through the organisation’s natural progression are supposed to be the second layer of our leadership, listen to the desperate calls of those whose dreams are being shattered daily. Let them roar louder by speaking truth to the realities confronting South Africa.

It is within their conviction to encourage Panyaza Lesufi to proceed and write what he likes. Mbalula must pen a thought-provoking open letter to Zuma without fear of losing a transitional ministerial position.

Paul Mashatile’s democratic right of electing a leader of his choice must be entrenched without his social upward mobility being covertly eclipsed.

The analytical talents and outspokenness of Dr Makhosi Khoza must be warmly embraced. Lulu Johnson must revisit without fear the Protea and Springbok emblem discourse.

The former youth leaders and participants in the progressive structure must commit to memory Oscar Wilde’s words: “We are never more true to ourselves than when we are inconsistent.”

In hindsight, we now know that the appeal made by Gigaba on behalf of the youth league fell on deaf ears.

The South African dream has been sabotaged by our own leaders. It is high time for the next generation to reclaim centre stage.

Renewal and redirection are desperately needed, and nothing short of a bloodless mutiny (similar to the 1949 putsch in which the Congress Youth League deposed ANC president AB Xuma and secured nearly half the executive seats) will save the ship.

Mahatma Gandhi said: “Truth never damages a cause that is just.” As such, the youth league and talented leaders within it must pick up the baton that has fallen. Our future depends on it.

Dube is a senior researcher at the Xubera Institute of Research and Development

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