Elitist musical chairs

2010-12-13 00:00

SO the Young Communist League congress descended into mayhem during election time with the KwaZulu-Natal delegates reportedly throwing chairs.

We certainly know how to throw chairs in this province. I recall chairs flying at a KZN Legislature sitting in Vryheid a few years ago when members of the ANC and Inkatha Freedom Party clashed over service delivery issues.

Of course violent confrontations at political gatherings must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

However, I can’t help thinking that in the case of the YCL Congress it would have been equally scary if the election for league leaders had taken place with absolutely no dissent.

According to reports, there were attempts at bureaucratic control to ensure that current incumbent Buti Manamela gets re-elected as secretary-general.

But some delegates would have none of this, and by Saturday the congress was marked by disagreements over just about every part of the process, from credentials to electoral rules.

The situation rapidly descended into chaos with chairs thrown, delegates injured and the police firing tear gas into the congress venue on the campus of the University of the North West.

Despite spirited opposition, Manamela did get re-elected.

So what, you might ask, this is just more of the same. But I think that what happened in Mafikeng says a lot about youth politics and indeed the future of the country.

Manamela is seen as belonging to the camp of South African Communist Party secretary-general, Blade Nzimande, often described as an old-fashioned Stalinist ideologue.

The result is that while there is a global resurgence of debate and ideas among leftist-leaning youngsters re-imaging socialism, sadly the YCL appears to be years behind, caught in a time warp of old-style communist dogma.

KZN delegates wanted former YCL deputy secretary-general, Khaye Nkwanyana to replace Manamela. Cynics might dismiss this as nothing more than elite politics, with one lot of hopefuls wanting to replace another batch of hopefuls who used the YCL as a stepping stone to government,.

I have heard Nkwanyana speak and he is impressive. He is not afraid to speak out. He questioned former communication minister Simphiwe Nyanda’s business interests and called for lifestyle audits for government officials and political office bearers.

I would like to think that he has the potential to breathe new life into youth politics and possibly take the YCL along a different trajectory.

Nkwanyana may not have such strong ambitions, but there certainly is reason to hope that among the dissidents at the congress there are young people seriously re-imagining the future path of socialism.

The question is, will they stay the course and fight to change the YCL, or will Nkwanyana and other dissenters, like former YCL deputy national secretary Mazibuko Jara, be ejected from the party? Jara was suspended for questioning the league’s support for Jacob Zuma as a presidential candidate. He wrote a paper titled What Colour is Our Flag? Red or JZ?

The YCL’s new chair is Yershen Pillay, who is described as a Manamela ally. He was born in Pietermaritzburg, and his family moved to Johannesburg when he was young. Pillay, who is a former national treasurer of the league, graduated from the University of Cape Town, majoring in politics and economics. While at UCT he received the deputy vice-chancellor’s award for excellence in student leadership. However, he fits into the Manamela/Nzimande mould.

He is also vice chairperson of the controversial National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), which has just received R40 million towards its R69 million budget to host the World Youth Festival that takes place in Pretoria from today until December 21.

Earlier this year the exorbitant salaries of NYDA office-bearers were highlighted. Pillay earns more than R600 000 per year.

Going forward, it seems the YCL, like the ANC Youth League, is nothing more than a nursery for future ANC leaders, an organisation caught up in a time warp and increasingly out of touch with the real issues facing young people on the ground.

South Africa needs youth politics that imprints itself on a generation of unemployed young people, on Aids orphans, on the violence that is so much a fabric of our society, and on a failing education system.

There is good work being done in this regard among civil society organisations.

Also worth watching is Jara’s initiative with these organisations to bring about a new movement of the democratic left on to the political stage.

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