ANC Youth League needs its Nasrec moment

The memorial lecture of former ANC president Sefako Makgatho, at the Good Hope Centre in Cape Town by members of the ANC Youth League, is one example of how dysfunctional the league. Picture: Edrea Du Toit
The memorial lecture of former ANC president Sefako Makgatho, at the Good Hope Centre in Cape Town by members of the ANC Youth League, is one example of how dysfunctional the league. Picture: Edrea Du Toit

Young people will have to fight to reclaim the credibility and legacy of league’s founding leaders

The shooting incident at an ANC Youth League (ANCYL) event in Hammanskraal north of Pretoria, which led to the death of Lethabo Nkoana, represents the lowest point in what has been a race to the bottom of this once glorious formation.

Why has the ANCYL degenerated into this limping wild animal that is now eating its own children?

What happened to the calibre of youth league leaders and members that used to sit at the top of youth affairs in this country?

The leaders of the league had authority to give commands for protests against an illegitimate government and instructions for change of leadership that had overstayed its welcome.

These leaders championed the acceleration of service delivery, confident of their legitimacy as the true voice of all young people in the country.

It’s true that there is no institution associated with the ANC that has been able to retain its organisational integrity, its independence and its oversight role in the last 10 years.

The ANCYL joins institutions such as Cosatu, the SA Communist Party, SA National Civic Organisation, ANC Women’s League, SA Students Congress and even the Congress of SA Students.

Along with almost all government institutions, they have been ruined in the past decade by henchmen hungry for power.

These henchmen would not only like to keep that power but would like to see that power metastasised into absolute power.

The brazen use of patronage to secure support for the retention of that power and the purging of those who stood in the way became the modus operandi.

The youth league will be rescued by young people who appreciate that the ANC has always been led by the most talented, educated and smart young leaders from its founding through its century of existence.

This search for absolute power was already signalling the change in politics – from ideological and theoretical differences – among comrades engaged in a noble cause of complete liberation of our people to an all-out war.

Comrades became mean-spirited against one another and comradeship itself, which must by definition possess intrinsic revolutionary value, was turned on its head.

Unfortunately, the degeneration of politics into an all-out war for absolute power is not unique to South Africa.

As some political analysts have said, the truth is that politics has become war.

Politicians, young and old, somehow think they are engaged in an epic battle – a battle for ideology, for power, for resources and for control.

They are ready to cheat, steal and, clearly, to kill, because in any war, only those willing to push further than others will win.

The aim is to win power.

Once you have this kind of epic struggle for the control of the ANCYL, as Karl Marx observed of 18th century France, you have “created circumstances that made it possible for a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero’s part”.

The ANCYL politics has become a winner-takes-all game of slates where those who lead it have access, power to influence, political largesse and a seat in the highest decision-making bodies of the governing party.

When you have a coterie of youth, highly motivated and sometimes indoctrinated, volunteers without much to do, promised a possibility of a meteoric rise, you have a weaponised machine that is ready to do anything to succeed.

These are young people on a promise, who are always ready to attack opponents – inside or outside the organisation – because in their coterie, that behaviour is celebrated as a sign of dedication.

Killing becomes inevitable.

What this means is that if the ANCYL is to return to its former glory, if it is to reclaim the credibility and goodwill of its founding leaders, it is going to have to be fought for.

While intellectuals and capable leaders usually do not have the appetite to get into the ring and fight – because they think they are a special breed entitled to lead – that time has long passed. If you care about the youth league, you are going to have to fight for it.

This is the story of Nasrec. It’s going to have to be a story of the youth league if it is to be saved.

Politics, by its democratic nature, is open enough for anyone to contest and to assume office, whatever their capacity.

It therefore means that for those who may find themselves outside certain fields that require high barriers of entry, politics becomes their default profession.

This means these people will do anything for the only profession available to them and will not allow others, even those evidently most capable to rise to the top, or at least will not make it easy.

It’s a big mistake, however, for those most capable and most educated, to leave politics to those ready to do anything to have and keep political power.

As James Madison says in Federalist 51: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”

The only way to counteract the ambition of thugs and warlords is to have ambitions of our own.

We have a duty to turn joining the youth league into a messianic task against those who want to use it to secure their livelihoods and to be henchmen of their handlers.

The ANC’s document Through the eye of the needle has asked the question of how the organisation should deal with “individual ambition, lobbying, promotion of friends and pursuit of selfish interests”.

Read: We take responsibility for the dath of Nkoana, say ANC youth leaders 

It has attempted to address the issues of internal contestation tearing the movement apart. It has also asked: “How do we prevent attempts to use the movement as a step ladder towards self-enrichment?”

The problem of course is that the document has tried to appeal to our revolutionary morality, our political conscience and the knowledge of the movement and its values and vision.

Unfortunately, the people who are now involved in politics do not care much about such values and could not care less about the vision.

The lure of power and its largesse, and the access that power gives, is all that matters to them.

The answer to all this is simple.

If we have a group that is willing to cheat, buy members and branches, send rascals to meetings and even shoot and kill others for power, the good guys must find a way to prevent the charlatans from ever getting close to youth league power.

And there is no place more important to defeat the enemies of the revolution than at the national conference.

The good guys must prevail in the ANC for the ANCYL to survive because “ambition must be made to counteract ambition”.

The time for young people to lament in their enclaves about how the ANCYL has become unattractive and does not represent them is over.

Nobody cares about impressing you. If you want the youth league to reflect your aspirations, fight for it.

The bigger challenge of course is that young people who complain about the youth league are also lacklustre about voting in general.

They are motivated by personal choice, not the community or the nation. It is not these young people who will rescue the youth league.

The youth league will be rescued by young people who appreciate that the ANC has always been led by the most talented, educated and smart young leaders from its founding through its century of existence.

All ANC leaders, those who founded the ANC in 1912 and the founders of the youth league in 1944, were young men barely in their thirties – capable, educated and immensely talented.

This is our legacy, this is the legacy of the ANC and all its leagues and it’s worth fighting for.

Diko is a social commentator

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