Dealing with the ANC Youth League

2011-08-30 00:00

JUDGING by the euphoria in the media and many other public platforms about the prospect of some form of punishment being meted out on the national office bearers of the ANC Youth League, there are a lot of people who have been so incensed by the Youth League’s militancy that they hope that the ANC disciplinary committee (DC) process will give them some form of revenge. But all must be well-advised not to expect exactly what they hope for. There is still a possibility of an outcome that does not result in the expulsion of Julius Malema.

The announcement of charges against the Youth League president and four other leaders was greeted with joy in some circles. I want to suggest that the euphoria that we have seen from mainly the liberal class and other sections of the middle class, including black diamonds, comes from the hope that the DC will remove what has been called the Malema factor from the public space. These classes have found the militancy of the disgruntled and largely black youth class uncomfortable to contend with, while others who agree with the Youth League are incensed by lack of etiquette and decorum in its members’ language.

We must admit that besides matters of leadership style and questions about influence on government procurement, which were only revealed recently, the anti-Malema attitude dating back some years has to do with our unwillingness to confront a few truths about our society.

The first is that socioeconomic inequalities have grown, reflecting the apartheid-era racial hierarchies of white affluence and black poverty.

The second is that while there has been a growth of the black middle class, this has only benefited about 500 000 black youth out of several million of them.

The third is that the structure of the economy, which is broadly defined by economists as dominant monopoly capital and a second economy of semi-poverty has not changed, meaning that the post-1994 political freedom has not translated into economic emancipation for mostly the black underclass.

The fourth is that because of these pressures, the underclass has assumed increasing power within the governing party and is asserting its right to share in the prosperity the working class pays with its life to build. The middle class, especially the black diamonds, has become so complacent that it has marginalised itself from the centre of political power and has been overtaken by the underclass and hates it.

This change in the balance of power in the public realm expresses itself in a radical discourse about economic disparities and the need for corrective transformation, the demand for nationalisation as a metaphor for drastic economic reform, the demand for an intergenerational mix in the ANC and government leadership, the demand for media regulation, and the intention to occupy the policy space historically occupied by the SA Communist Party and other forms of militancy.

The Youth League seems to have realised that the DC process will not be reversed in favour of a political dialogue. It has adopted a twin strategy of mass mobilisation driven by its provincial structures in support of its charged leaders and the appeal for clemency and dialogue. This will be counterproductive as it will annoy more than placate the critics. The Youth League’s leadership may have annoyed too many in the ANC leadership by showing no regard for authority and for seeking to undermine its foreign policy.

Regardless of the outcome, the DC process would have the effect of forcing the youth leadership to see its errors and admit its wrongs. If found to have violated the ANC constitution, Malema faces expulsion, but if he’s found to have violated our rules, he will be suspended. Others will most likely be asked to apologise and correct their ways. The whole exercise will most likely have a corrective rather than a punitive value for the youth constituency.

It is not in the interest of the ANC as a governing party that wants to remain dominant in the public discourse to silence its most vocal structure. A youth structure that is as absent from the public discourse and mass mobilisation as the women’s league would be a loss for the ANC as a political party. For this reason, the post-DC period will be managed politically in a manner that affirms the Youth League in spite of the punishment meted out to its leaders.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue. He writes in his personal capacity.

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