Young Lions stayin’ alive

2014-11-30 15:00

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Its reputation might have taken a knock, but the ANC Youth League is as strong as ever

ANCYL members (left) sang at the start of the consultative conference held at the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto campus. Picture: Muntu Vilakazi/City Press

It’s been a roller coaster week for us Young Lions.

From where I sat in one of the National Task Team hot seats, this week had long looked like it promised drama. I could hear the man’s voice promoting the next show – “This week, in Joburg…”

While we all expected the excitement to climax just before the culmination of congress, it peaked early, in the beginning of the week.

On Monday night, we removed the elective component of our long-awaited conference, and rebranded it a consultative conference.

On Tuesday morning, we were disbanded – by a reporter.

It’s become commonplace that media reports about the inner workings of the ANC and the youth leagues are factually incorrect or draw the wrong conclusions.

Some of my comrades accept this as proof that “the media” is anti-ANC. I’m less certain about that. The behaviour of our reporters strikes me not unlike sharks in a feeding frenzy. It’s said the sharks get so worked up they often miss the target, or bite themselves.

A case in point was our Tuesday morning presser. Every reporter in the room played a game of “outpoking” each other, every question posed was meant to simultaneously penetrate our soft underbelly and expose us as liars, while showing off to their peers that theirs was the most devastating (unanswerable) query.

One journo in particular had everyone murmuring and nodding with their judo chop: “Is the youth league still relevant?” I could see the envy in those who had simply kept to trying to find out what the sinister reason behind the change was.

Those questions died only days later when President Jacob Zuma went off script and, in full earshot of “the media”, explained the matter to congress delegates. The president had given them fresh meat – an admission that the ANC was shaken and in trouble. Duh.

Anyway, back to the strike. Is the ANC Youth League still relevant? I admit, I’ve asked myself and my comrades this a number of times.

The youth wing of the largest political party in South Africa garnered the support of the same percentage of the electorate that went to vote for Nelson Mandela the first time.

So, by extension, as the greatest mobilising agent in a young country, it is relevant – hence all the questions.

It has created political superstars and household names out of the relatively obscure, and continues to do so. South Africans will know your name if you’re at the helm or trying to get there. Which is one of the reasons contestation internally is so fierce.

Yes, it is relevant, but right now that relevance is skewed by privilege. The more you can “make it” on your own, the less you’d “need” the league. Ultimately, influence in South Africa boils down to access.

But is it a force to be reckoned with in society? People who ask this typically refer to a time when anything the league said made certain people shake in their boots.

Anything less than a fearful response renders the league toothless.

Yet it is the founding fathers of the league who surreptitiously shaped southern African politics over the past 60 years. Everything from the tactics and ideology, to the songs and slogans that even other parties now use came from that youth league. Arguably, it was influential without being feared. That was relevant.

So now? Well, the answer to that question lies in what the league decides to do after this conference. For as long as individual members place the ambitions of those of us who can spread a little cash around above the interests of young people in their community, this question will be asked more frequently.

The relevance of the youth league lies in the relevance of each member to their society.

The answer lies in their actions.

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