Johannesburg - Newly elected ANC Youth League president Collen Maine has apologised for how the league behaved under former leader Julius Malema.
Speaking for the first time since his election as ANCYL president on Friday, Maine has vowed to take the organisation back to championing the needs and aspirations of the country's youth.
"We have to acknowledge... that at some point in the life of this progressive organisation... these ideals were trampled on.
"New cultures emerged under certain [leaders], where a radical and militant practice of the youth league was met with anarchy," he told the ANCYL's 25th national congress in Midrand.
In an apparent reference to Malema, Maine said some "saw fit to lead it astray".
Again without mentioning Malema, Maine accused him of stealing the ANCYL's policy positions, namely "economic freedom in our lifetime".
"Those counter-revolutionary forces must be told here and now that they are lost thieves who ultimately stole our themes and these ideas from this platform and now they want to confuse our people.
"Economic freedom belongs to the youth league and nobody else," Maine said to loud applause from delegates.
Malema was expelled from the ANCYL in 2012 for bringing the ANC into disrepute. The party disbanded the league's leadership structures in 2013. Malema went on to found the Economic Freedom Fighters.
First after Malema
Maine is the first ANCYL president elected after Malema's expulsion. He said the league needs to acknowledge the mistakes of the recent past and correct them.
"We must not be afraid to say to our leaders in the ANC, those who we look upon for guidance and wisdom, that we are wrong, we apologise, and never, never again shall it be that the name of the ANC be insulted in the name of the youth league," Maine said.
He said the league is not autonomous from the ANC and its policies.
President Jacob Zuma warned delegates on Saturday that the ANCYL cannot "emphasise autonomy".
Maine said the ANCYL would restore its militancy, vibrancy and radicalism. He urged members to defend the ANC, especially Zuma.
"He's our president. An attack on President Zuma is an attack on the ANC and all of us."