Political critique is at the heart of autonomy

2010-10-09 14:05

According to the ­constitution of the ruling ANC, the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) is indeed an autonomous body with its own constitution and rules.

The reason this point has to be asserted is some members of the ANC alliance, particularly the South African Communist Party (SACP), appear to be questioning this right to autonomy.

General secretary of the SACP Blade Nzimande ­dismissed the notion of ANCYL autonomy vis-à-vis the ANC.

It was interesting to see that this came soon after the ANC and deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe said that the ANCYL was an autonomous body.

While the right to autonomy is abundantly clear in the Constitution, what is not clear are the grounds for questioning or ­rejecting such autonomy.

It’s intriguing how questioning the right to autonomy of the ANCYL emerges not only with its demand for the nationalisation of mines, but also appears to be a political and discursive reaction to it.

When was the right to autonomy of the ­ANCYL so strongly questioned before?

We must, firstly, acknowledge such a right and then draw a distinction between it and any differences critics may have with the ANCYL over the combustible question of nationalisation or the often unruly and disrespectful behaviour of its leaders.

While it does not have a right to the latter, it certainly does have a right to the former – the right to differ with the parent body, the ANC, and/or its allies.

In fact, it is arguable that the right to have policy or other differences with the ANC lies at the heart of the ANCYL’s autonomy.

And though the ANCYL is not an ally – like Cosatu and the SACP – this cannot mean that its right to differ is diminished.

The right of the ANCYL to differ with the ANC is important precisely because the ANC is so dominant. Key issues are ­debated and resolved inside the party.

Nzimande and others must ­desist from the cheap politics of using constitutionalism (though misguided) to smother opposition and debate in the ANC.

A genuine communist party would defend the right of the ANCYL to differ, not look for constitutional loopholes to suppress the right to debate.

» Harvey is writing the ­authorised ­political biography of deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe

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