The youth league remains in limbo as the ANC celebrates its 108th birthday

Former ANC Youth League president Collen Maine. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla/FOTO24
Former ANC Youth League president Collen Maine. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla/FOTO24

A fiery feeling of anguish, despair, with no sense of direction, spreads through young people in the country.

Their hope in the ANC Youth League continues to dissipate steadily, as the ANC celebrates its 108th birthday with no sense of guilt or shame.

At the time, it was banned by the apartheid government, 1944 young lads within the liberation movement gathered to form the youth league. They planned to antagonise the vicious system through vigour and militancy. Their programme of action gained traction within the ANC and infused the Mass Democratic Movement with much-needed robustness.

During its manifesto launch at the Bantu Social Centre in Johannesburg under the motto “Africa’s cause must triumph”, the youth league enlisted the following as part of their focal points:

• That Africanism should be promoted (i.e. Africans should struggle for development, progress and national liberation so as to occupy their rightful and honourable place among nations of the world); and

• That the African youth should be united, consolidated, trained and disciplined, because from their ranks, future leaders would be recruited.

It was a clear and concise manifesto designed to help the ANC to remain in the minds of the oppressed people back at home by rallying behind the sound and solid programme of action.

It outlined a plan that would help the ANC by grooming leaders who would take the baton from the elders. The youth league was the fresh blood the ANC wanted.

Leaders of the league were the engine that drove the party when it forgot its primary objectives as enshrined in its motto A Better Life For All.

Indeed, the youth league has over the years produced leaders for the ANC – the late former President Nelson Mandela was chief among those co-opted by the ANC from the league.

Hordes of other leaders such as the two-time youth league president and now the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) member, Malusi Gigaba; former secretary-general, president and now ANC NEC member Fikile Mbalula; former league secretary-general and current ANC provincial chairperson Sihle Zikalala; former league treasurer-general and now ANC national spokesperson, Pule Mabe; former league president and now ANC NEC member, Collen Maine and others have swelled the ranks of the ANC.

True to their commitment to drive and groom leaders for the ANC, the league has played a vital role.

This role of the league continued up until the ANC decided to expel and suspend its leaders in 2013. After the national disciplinary committee took that costly decision, the youth league was on its knees until 2015 when new leaders were elected to lead the fragile youth league. The 2015 brigade led the youth league during the heightened period of corruption, declining levels of trust from the public, and crass materialism within the ANC.

Their focus shifted towards fitting into society than driving campaigns that would benefit the larger part of society.

Indeed, the 2015 leaders had absolutely no significant campaigns that were noticeable or still linger in the minds of a large population of the country.

However, the 2015 brigade cannot shoulder the blame alone – its insignificant period can be largely apportioned to the current leadership of the ANC which dismally failed to create a plan after disbanding the youth league in 2013.

Their mission was to oust what they deemed was a threat to their hegemony without developing a broader plan to roll-out thereafter. The league had insurmountable and swelling debts that were created by the Julius Malema-led league.

A critical point the ANC failed to consider (or maybe it was part of the plan to ensure the youth league did not function to its optimal level best) was clearing the escalating debt.

This would have enabled the 2015 brigade to start on a clean slate and judge them on that basis. However, the youth league threw them into the deep end so that they could use that as a case study at a later stage.

As the ANC national youth task team continues to roll out its plan to rebuild the youth league towards its March national congress, one wonders if the highly divided team can succees.

Failure to deliver the congress, the ANC would have shot themselves on the foot as we approach 2021 local government elections. Our country has grown young over the years – the ANC cannot afford to not have the youth league to mobilise and campaign to their constituency.

Unfortunately, the leaders of the ANC continue to inflict pain and anguish within the once-mighty militant youth league that would have propelled the ANC to its glory status.

As they descend to the least populated province in the country for the January 8 statement, within their broader plan, you can rest assured that it excludes the youth league’s revival and rebuilding. It is a painful experience that one has become accustomed to and it hurts badly – like the ever-increasing unemployment rate among young people.

For young people there is a bleak future, with little empathy from their elders – one wonders if it’s still worth it to carry an youth league and ANC membership card as our future continues to vanish before our naked eyes.

  • Sibusiso Samantungwa is the ANC Youth League and ANC member at Phumuzakhele Branch in Mzala Nxumalo region (formerly known as Abaqulusi)

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