Growing Pains: Heeding the call to become a politico

As a child, I was crestfallen to discover ?that one of my uncles had simply vanished overnight and couldn’t make good on his promise to take me on an outing for my birthday.

Grandmother MaMsimang explained gently he “had been called by the movement”. He had to heed the call, even if inconvenient. She continued: “And, one day, so will you.”

One such call came a few weeks ago. Through the congratulatory message of a comrade and friend, I was made aware of a press conference at which the members of a newly founded national task team to “rebuild the ANC Youth League” had been announced. My name was among them.

The next day, I got the call from Luthuli House. “Comrade, we’ve deployed you.”

Well, who can say no to that? Clearly, none of the other 21 I joined that weekend for a briefing with the ANC’s secretary-general and national executive committee deployees.

We were given some insight into the party’s peculiar head-hunting methods.

“We didn’t consult you because it was about you. Instead, we consulted widely about you.”

Still, the unmentioned elephant in the room trumpeted: “Why these guys?”

We were told the ANC had opted for people unlikely to stand for leadership positions in the league at it’s next elective conference, either because of age or temperament. That made sense. I imagine many would cry foul if frontrunners to lead went into the national task team only to return as well-entrenched frontrunners.

But it would be a fortnight before I began to really appreciate the choices. At a workshop, we all stood up in turn to give our credentials in a modern-day peeing contest.

I kind of felt like a drip. These guys and girls were so accomplished in their own rights, all with diverse outlooks and extensive experience in their respective political or youth structures, civil society and the public sector, or even blends between them.

Perhaps it is because the ANC is perceived as the Borg, a swarm of similar-minded cyborgs responding only to the instructions of the hive, that the press intimated that many individuals were “unknown”.

With regards to the press, I got a rude awakening of the cold war between politicians, and newspaper men and women. I was dismayed when this very newspaper used a sensationalist headline, albeit quite a catchy one, about 702 and I parting ways as a lead-in to talk about the national task team.

But what baffled me was the domino effect of media outlets all using the same story and each quoting the other as if that made it fact. Double checking be damned when deadlines await.

Even more mind-boggling were the reports of certain national task team members receiving calls from journalists pretending to be officials at Luthuli House. “Er?.?.?.?give us your CV comrade. No, no, don’t send it, just tell it to me now while we’re on the phone.”

While that story elicited chuckles, the blatant lies one journo from The New Age published weren’t a laughing matter. It would seem the ethics we bemoan as having been lost in the public sector are also missing from the fourth estate.

The private sector wasn’t far behind. I got a phone call offering me a board position and, soon after, a request from a stranger to assist with a tender from a municipality I had barely heard of.

Some of my comrades also got hold of me. While many expressed support and excitement by some sort of expected shake-up, some asked for positions in youth league structures they were sure the task team would be disbanding immediately.

They would be sad to know the team isn’t disbanding any more but rather auditing structures.

Among the messages of support were young people of youth league age who expressed their happiness that I was getting politically involved. When I asked if they would be joining me, they mostly laughed and said: “No, but you’re there, nje.”

“Don’t be cynical Shaka.” These were the secretary-general’s last word’s to me as he walked past me out of the briefing room.

In the minefield between different interests, an inevitable paranoia, different perceptions of our motives and a contested dream for tomorrow, it would be easy to become disillusioned.

And that’s what was so heartening about our last gathering as a national task team this past Sunday: that regardless of the glut of issues that face us, or of the differences between us, there was a unity of purpose in serving the interests of young people the country over.

May the ANC’s ancestors guide us.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
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