Death of dialogue

2010-05-22 16:02

The leaders of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL)

should be worried about the state of ­democracy within their


If the emerging pattern of rowdy and unruly behaviour at their

elective conferences is anything to go by, democracy is being eroded to a point

where it will soon be a thing of the past.

We also have every reason to worry when an organisation that is

regarded as an ­incubator for future leaders of the ANC flouts democratic norms

even as it pays lip service to them.

Such behaviour is a signpost pointing to a troubled future.


suggests we might be breeding a generation of leaders whose ­primary concern is

the condition of their ­bellies and for whom concern for their ­constituencies

is just a rung on the ladder of political power.

Last weekend’s abandoned Eastern Cape ANCYL conference is a case in


The dissolution of that elective conference did not come as a surprise to

many of us who knew the problems that had cropped up in the build-up to what was

supposed to be a proxy war between ANCYL boss Julius ­Malema and his deputy,

Andile Lungisa.

But what was surprising – even to some of the 1?300 delegates who

showed up in East London – was the degree to which lobbyists were prepared to

tamper with the ­registration of delegates in order to influence the


There was even a video recording of a car belonging to a campaigner

for one of the ­opposing sides ­distributing name tags to people who were

­allegedly not supposed to be part of the ­conference.

So if the conference had gone ahead its ­outcome would surely have

been disputed by the losing side.

We were told later the conference would no longer discuss policy

issues; instead it would be devoted to electing leadership.

But it did not look as if there were any ­issues to discuss to

start with, as no position papers had been produced in the run-up to the


When the conference eventually started more than 24 hours later,

any speaker perceived as being aligned with Lungisa was booed or shouted down by

the Malema camp before he could begin his address.

This prompted ANCYL treasurer-general Pule Mabe and fellow ANCYL

national ­leader Mduduzi Manana to remind the crowd that Lungisa was still their

“democratically elected” leader.

Although a certain amount of tension and rivalry among members of

an organisation can vitalise internal democracy, any organisation should know

that it is in trouble when jeering and howling become an ­accepted substitute

for rational debate.

What is also worrying about this new trend is that when ANCYL

members attend ­con­fer­­ences they come with fixed ideas about their preferred

leaders and are not prepared to allow ­rational arguments to change their


What is the point, then, of debates and lobbying when people are

not prepared to be swayed?

However, what is even more worrying is the lack of interest

­displayed by members and leaders in ­substantive policy issues that have an

effect on the organisation’s constituency.

Issues such as education, unemployment and rural development do not

feature ­anywhere. Instead, people were talking about abstract concepts such as

the need to “defend our revolution”.

This must come as a disappointment to young people who feel that

the league should function as a vehicle to advance their causes.

Take the case of 26-year-old Eastern Cape ­ANCYL member Ayanda


The Port Elizabeth resident says he joined the league because of

its policies.

He says: “I saw it as a platform to raise issues affecting the


I felt if you speak from outside no one listens to you. The ANCYL gives

me a voice.”

Other members worry that their ­issues are being ignored while

jostling for ­power takes centre stage.

Lusanda Sizani, a 29-year-old Walter ­Sisulu University student who

has been an ANCYL leader for the past six years, says: “The future of the youth

league depends on the leaders.

We want leaders who will serve youth interests

and not those who will go against those interests.”

Surely an ANCYL that has become too ­inward-looking and obsessed

with power cannot advance the causes of people like Sizani and Mncwabeni?

The pattern of irrationality and ­ill-discipline in the league

could be noticed as far back as the fraught 2008 ­Mangaung ­ANCYL national

conference, which failed to yield any clear result and prompted the ANC’s

national working committee to ­retrospectively decide that Malema had beaten his

rival, Saki ­Mofokeng.

The Mangaung conference will always be remembered for the kind of

political ­practices that suggest democracy and ­civility do not matter when

power is at stake.

It probably marked the lowest point in both the league’s and the

ruling party’s ­political ­culture.

But it would be unfair, of course, to suggest that this creeping

aversion to democratic values is unique to the ANCYL.

Currently we are seeing similar tendencies within the Congress of

the People, where there is talk that supporters of its current president,

Mosiuoa Lekota, are threatening to interdict the party’s much-awaited ­elective

conference from taking place.

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