Clueless and leaderless

2013-04-18 00:00

RECENTLY, the African National Congress (ANC) announced the members of the National Task Team (NTT) who have been given the responsibility of reviving the structures of the ANC Youth League. It is a well-known fact that the ANCYL has been dysfunctional and that its image and credibility have almost completely been destroyed. I have no doubt, therefore, that many members of the ANC and the ­ANCYL will be happy with the process of restoring the image of the organisation to its former glory.

In the past few years, the plight of young people has been left unattended to by those who claimed to represent the interests of the youth. Lack of good, visionary leadership has meant that the youth continues to be the group that suffers the most from unemployment.

When the unions opposed the youth-wage subsidy proposal on the grounds that it would lead to job losses for other citizens, few of the prominent youth organisations challenged the unions on this point. In fact, the ANCYL essentially supported the rejection of the subsidy, while the Democratic Alliance youth supported the implementation of the subsidy. One would think that the interests of young people — rather than ideological squabbling — would be important to organisations representing the youth. One might also be inclined to think that the youth organisations would reach some sort of understanding on what co-operation could take place. But one would be wrong in making such assumptions.

This lack of good leadership has resulted in the absence of youth programmes aimed at dealing with the question of corruption in the country, and how it essentially affects young people. Instead of such campaigns, the youth of the country are so frustrated that they have resorted to violent public protests in many parts of the country. Even then, the youth organisations do not take charge of such protests by leading young people in effective but peaceful service-delivery protests. Young people are left to fend for themselves in the absence of strong leadership. Leaderless mass action is very dangerous.

The National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) has in its possession evidence of corruption and lack of leadership. Although the agency was established to help with the development of young people, it has become an elitist, and maybe even dysfunctional, body. Not many young people know precisely what the NYDA is meant to do and what it is doing. Funds provided to the agency have, at times, been blatantly squandered — as we have seen with the youth festival held in December 2010, on which R100 million was spent, with more than R9 million being spent on entertainment alone. Allegations of corruption in the NYDA have been rife. For instance, there are allegations that an official of the NYDA awarded a R100 million tender to his uncle.

There is also the crippling problem of overpoliticising youth structures through the “deployment” of well-connected individuals to such positions. There is an overrepresentation of some groups in the NYDA, which tends to alienate the youth who belong to different parties and ideologies. This excludes many young people who might justly feel that the lines between state institutions and political parties (particularly the ANC Youth League and the NYDA) have been blurred. So, for many young people to be successful, they need to have political connections. A lack of good leadership exacerbates the feeling of desertion felt by the youth.

The revival of the ANCYL through the NTT follows a period of confusion and the silencing of the voices of the youth. The leadership of the ANCYL focused more on the issue of the nationalisation of the mines and leadership squabbles within the ANC. In pursuing this nationalisation agenda, the ANCYL failed to lead young people through effective and practical programmes for youth development. Instead, there is now a disconnect between the formal structures established for the youth and the youth themselves.

It is not just the ANCYL that is failing to provide good leadership to the young people of South Africa. Many political parties have their own youth structures that remain dysfunctional and ineffective when it comes to the plight of young people.

There are no mass campaigns for the youth and the environment. There are mass campaigns for educating young men on the immorality and insanity of raping women and children. Even the campaign on the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse was not pursued passionately. There is not even an effective campaign by any of the youth structures that is effective enough to unite young people and promote youth participation in governance.

In the light of this, I have to wonder if reviving the ANC Youth League works for the benefit of the ANC — by bringing in the much-needed youth vote — or benefits the youth beyond any elections. Are youth organisations really representing the interest of young people in this country? Is it possible that we regard the youth today as the lost generation simply because there is a lack of good youth leadership akin to that of the generation of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo?

• Sanele Nene is a lecturer in the School of Social Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal

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