ANC Youth League battles to stay afloat

ANC Youth League secretary-general Njabulo Nzuza
ANC Youth League secretary-general Njabulo Nzuza

While countering calls to disband the league, its secretary-general admits to the mother body having helped it settle a R5m debt

ANC Youth League secretary-general Njabulo Nzuza has warned that disbanding the youth wing is not advisable, even as calls mount for the mother body to call time on the current leaders.

Nzuza, who was sworn in as deputy minister of home affairs in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s executive last week, told City Press that there was an urgent need for the youth league to hold a conference, as opposed to disbanding it.

“The last disbandment taught us a harsh lesson. It turned out to be a problem for the ANC. I am not saying that [former leader of the ANC Youth League] Julius Malema and his cohorts were correct or wrong, but we have learnt from that and I am hoping that the ANC will take the right decision,” Nzuza said, referring to the disbandment of the league’s leadership structures in 2013.

“We will meet with the national executive committee (NEC) on Wednesday to map out a way forward,” he added.

There has been a strong push in the past week, particularly from former leaders of the Congress of SA Students, for the NEC to disband the youth league and replace it with a task team until it can hold an elective congress.

Some ANCYL members arrived at the NEC meeting, held this weekend in Pretoria, to hand over a memorandum outlining their demands.

The members have accused youth league president Collen Maine of being inaccessible.

Said Nzuza: “I think it is time for a new generation [to take the lead]. We cannot be overstaying our welcome. Yes, we know it used to happen when leaders would be due for conference, and they would still carry on for another two years and so on. We don’t want that to happen with us, but external factors denied us an opportunity to do so.”

Nzuza revealed that the youth league had to knock on the doors of the ANC for financial aid after it found itself having to pay off some large debts.

“There are other financial issues that affected the league – for example, its failure to pay for legal costs in the defamation case that [former Western Cape premier] Helen Zille instituted against the league, Malema, Floyd Shivambu and Andile Lili in 2010, and the debts that were created there. We have finalised some of the debts and paid off about R5 million to make sure that the organisation is in good health.

“We were not even aware of some of the debts. In one instance, we owed the Passenger Rail Agency of SA as well.

“The ANC has assisted, and we are very thankful to the party’s treasurer-general, who managed at the peak of elections to raise R5 million for us to settle those debts.”

Despite criticism levelled against Nzuza and other leaders since their election in 2015, the secretary-general says that the current leadership’s legacy is the implementation of youth representation across all spheres of government.

These leaders, elected in 2015, allegedly had the backing of a then powerful bloc in the ANC dubbed the premier league – a faction that comprised supporters of former president Jacob Zuma, which included current ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule.

Maine was sworn in as MP alongside Nzuza during the first sitting of the sixth Parliament earlier this month, but was left out of Ramaphosa’s Cabinet.

Former youth league leaders have made their way on to provincial executive committees in significant numbers, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. Following the provincial conferences which elected the young leaders, many them have also become MECs across the country.

“What is happening is not a coincidence,” said Nzuza. “It comes as a result of a well-structured move that we influenced in the ANC during the national general council, where we got the thumbs-up on the issue of 20% youth representation in government.

“This started to be implemented during the local government elections.

“Since then, it has been gaining traction, and now we see it in Parliament with a new crop of the younger generation. It has translated to Cabinet appointments and also to a number of executive positions by way of MEC appointments in various provinces.

“It is not just coming from the sky; it comes from hard work that we have put in and from discussing this with the ANC.

“What is important for me is that finally the ANC will regenerate and infuse new ideas. I am sure that the comrades who have been given these new responsibilities will start to bring those ideas to the fore and we will start to see things implemented faster.”

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