Shut down the ‘dead’ youth league

2014-12-08 13:45

When it was announced that the ANC Youth League’s elective conference was downgraded to a consultative forum last week, journalists asked both the ANC and leaders of the league harsh questions about the league’s reason for existence.

Ironically, despite this being the 70th anniversary of its founding, there was no place for such introspection at its damp squib of a conference and, naturally, almost everyone with a direct interest defended the league’s right to exist.

The plenary on Thursday night was dominated by “robust debates” – proxies for internal and leadership squabbles.

The next day, the conference was cut short before policy discussions happened.

But at least one member of the former national task team tried to stir debate about the issue in branch meetings leading up to the conference.

Former youth league spokesperson Bandile Masuku – a medical specialist and beyond the age where he could serve in the youth league anyway – said he believed the league should close shop.

In an interview with City Press, he admitted that there wasn’t much support for his opinion, but he said he still believed the complete integration of the youth league into the ANC could renew the organisation.

“At the moment, you can see – even in the ANC Youth League – people contesting for leadership are people who are in any case supposed to be leading the ANC,” he said.

Also, young people are often relegated to the youth league when they could really be serving in the ANC. At the moment, the only person of youth league age elected to the ANC’s 80-member national executive committee is Pule Mabe, who is 34.

“For me, all the members of the ANC must take part in the life of the ANC,” Masuku said.

“Having quotas is an option. For example, in Scandinavia they have a one-in-three quota in all elections, where one in every three leaders has to be a young person.

“We have done well anyway without the quota system, although I feel we can do much better.”

Masuku said the problem was that when people in the youth and women’s leagues were pushing a worthy issue, those issues weren’t always debated properly in the ANC.

“We tend to have this parking bay to park these arguments and views to say this is a youth league view, and for me this isn’t helping us,” he said.

“It isn’t even a matter of establishing a desk; they must close shop.”

There has been harsh opposition to his view, but Masuku said he believed it should be discussed.

This debate started a few years ago. The ANC’s policy discussion documents – drawn up for the 2010 policy conference – suggested the league’s presidents should become “chairpersons” to ensure the ANC president was the only centre of power in the organisation.

This suggestion wasn’t supported by the league and was rejected at the party’s conference in Mangaung in 2012.

ANC head of policy Nathi Mthethwa, who presented the party’s strategy and tactics document to the league at its conference last week, said the league has always been rejuvenating the ANC and it should continue.

“Young people get groomed and trained in the league. The point is that the ANC has benefited a lot from the youth league [since it was founded 70 years ago],” he said.

Mthethwa said a president like Nelson Mandela came from the youth league, which was “a platform to steep them in the philosophy and the theory of the ANC”.

Conversely, the league could also infuse the ANC with its ideas, he said.

He also said leaders of the ANC Youth League have been elected to ANC branches, and vice versa.

Analyst Xolani Dube, a senior researcher at the Xubera Institute for Research and Development, says the ANC Youth League “has been dead for years” and hasn’t affected the ANC leadership that much.

“If the ANC Youth League is a school that recruits members for the ANC, most of the leaders we have now, 80% of them, were not part of the ANC Youth League,” he said.

President Jacob Zuma wasn’t in the youth league, proving you could become president without the league’s help, he said.

Dube said the fact that the ANC could unilaterally decide to cancel the league’s elections last week at the 11th hour “is a clear indication of who has the power”.

He also said having two leagues, each with their own president, divided loyalties and the chains of command within the ANC.

“This was clear with Zuma and [former youth league president Julius] Malema,” he said. The same goes for Mandela and his counterpart in the league, Peter Mokaba.

“For me, I think it is a time for the league to become a focused desk and direct their work through that,” Dube said.

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