Daggers have been drawn in the strongly divided ANC Youth League (ANCYL), prompting a wave of frantic pleas for an early sitting to elect a much younger and more appealing leadership before the 2019 election campaign kicks off.The ANC national executive committee (NEC) has put on ice all such gatherings but some within the league argue it is autonomous and could have its way, as long as 70% of the branches have sat for their nominations.ANCYL spokesperson Mlondi Mkhize said: “There is nothing written down that we would be bound by such a decision [not to have a conference].”ANCYL structures were anxious that the leadership crisis would make it much harder for the mother-body to woo young voters come next year’s general elections.This was cited among the “compelling political reasons” for an early congress.Tension in the top structure reached boiling point when its president Collen Maine turned his back on his comrades and revealed how he had been introduced to the Guptas by North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo, a key figure in his election to that position. This has pitted him against some of the national leaders who labelled him a traitor who should be stripped off his position.They were also incensed that he unilaterally decided to apologise to Cyril Ramaphosa for the league’s decision not to support his campaign ahead of the ANC’s elective congress last year.Since “selling out his faction”, the calls by the league’s deputy secretary-general Thandi Moraka that he be removed is not gaining traction and instead structures are pushing for an early congress.This was the sentiment of some of the contenders who will battle it out for Maine’s position.It is a three-horse race between Reggie Nkabinde, Thanduxolo Sabela and Ndumiso Mokako who is understood to have the backing of senior leaders, such as President Cyril Ramaphosa.Mokako said the problems in the youth league were not caused by an individual and should be resolved through congress. He blamed the ANC youth league leadership for failing to attend to problems since the league’s election.“If your president can be accused of having a relationship with unpalatable characters like the Guptas, what do you say as the organisation?“The problems will not end even if Collen were gone today; the solution is an early national conference of the youth league.”Sabela echoed his sentiments.“We are not part of that call for the president to step down. Our call is that there must be a congress, it is the year of congress. The ANCYL NEC must call that congress,” said Sabela, adding that assessments were under way in the provinces and the conference would go ahead. There was a sentiment in the league that the current divisions do not allow for further delays.City Press heard that some of the ANC leaders at a national level were dreading a situation in which it would be Maine at the helm mobilising the youth to vote in the elections next year.“There is a view that Collen Maine is not going to appeal to young people, to clever blacks that did not vote during local government elections,” said an ANCYL member.So embarrassed is the ANC with Maine that it fielded Fikile Mbalula to speak for the youth at the funeral service of the late struggle stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.Mbalula recently told City Press that the ANC needed to give the youth league space to run its own affairs but also implored the young leaders to elect young people and not those on their way out.“I am an advocate of young leadership. “When I left the youth league, the reason I supported Julius Malema was not friendship, we were not friends. I left the youth league when I was 37, Peter Mokaba left when he was 40. “So, if we are to prepare ourselves and prepare these young people, when they are 30 they should be able to take responsibility, make mistakes and then when they are 35 they must move out of youth leadership,” Mbalula said.“In the last congress of the youth league when I came in, I was leading a task team. I veered away from making choices but I was really hoping for young leadership. I was shocked when the membership of the youth league was going for people who were almost at the exit, I didn’t understand this desperation.” Work was apparently under way in some structures to try to break what some league members said was a generational demon of using money to predetermine the outcome of conferences.