Does the ANC need de­fend­ing?

Dy­namic young lead­ers must rise up and save the soul of the youth league by re­fus­ing to be nar­rowly de­fined as de­fen­sive fod­der for lead­ers

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Dur­ing the re­cent ANC Youth League congress, both the pres­i­dent and deputy pres­i­dent of the ANC had a sin­gu­lar mes­sage for the young lions – a mes­sage re­peated at the party’s 104th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions in Pho­keng, North West – that the job of the youth league is to de­fend the ANC. That mes­sage is wholly wrong. Of course the job of all ANC mem­bers is to de­fend the ANC – that is not the pre­serve of just the youth league. But more im­por­tantly, both lead­ers failed to de­fine what this “de­fence” was all about.

At the congress where the new youth lead­er­ship was ush­ered in, af­ter years of league nonex­is­tence, Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa ven­tured to sug­gest that the ele­phant in the room was the de­fence of Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma. That’s some­thing that has be­come a hobby of many a party leader lately – at the ex­pense of the peo­ple, the party and the coun­try.

Please don’t get me wrong. I have noth­ing against de­fend­ing the ANC. It is the de­fence of lies, theft and cor­rup­tion in the name of the ANC with which I have a fun­da­men­tal dif­fi­culty.

This ob­ses­sion with de­fence shows clearly that our lead­ers do too many things that re­quire de­fend­ing, re-ex­plain­ing, spin­ning, and so on.

Zuma, on the other hand, did not come out clearly to say what this de­fence should be about. Of course, Zuma can de­fend him­self and would not need some­one as po­lit­i­cally bland as league pres­i­dent Collen Maine to do the job. A youth fire­brand who re­quires coach­ing at 35 to be “undiplo­matic” is a hope­less case, even by the stan­dards of some­one such as Zuma, who per­haps hopes Maine might rise to the oc­ca­sion and de­fend him, the ANC or even the coun­try – in that or­der.

To de­fend some­thing, you need to have the ca­pac­ity to un­der­stand and be able to ar­tic­u­late pol­icy. I have been lis­ten­ing care­fully and am sadly bat­tling to hear one word of pol­icy ap­pre­ci­a­tion from the mouth of Maine or that of any of his ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­bers. If I have missed any pearl of wis­dom, please en­lighten me. Th­ese guys are at sea about how to make the youth league rel­e­vant – it is that sim­ple.

Re­cently, for­mer deputy pres­i­dent Kgalema Mot­lanthe as­serted that ex­pelling Julius Malema had been a big mis­take and was promptly told to shut up. I think he was be­ing po­lite. It was a ter­ri­bly fool­ish thing to do – giv­ing the say­ing “cut­ting off your nose to spite your face” a whole new mean­ing. By that act, they cut off what­ever re­mained of the youth league.

What fol­lowed was a se­ries of dis­as­trous re­sus­ci­ta­tion at­tempts led by the ever-happy Mzwandile Masina, whose only claim to fame was his in­sult about the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor’s nose. He was re­warded with a deputy min­is­te­rial post for keep­ing the league dead af­ter Malema.

Then min­is­ters Nathi Mthethwa and Fik­ile Mbalula were res­ur­rected, Le­silo Rula (zom­bie) style, to blow new life into the dead body, which then, af­ter months of preg­nant an­tic­i­pa­tion, gave birth to a 35-year-old leader whose task of ap­peal­ing to my 18-year-old son to vote ANC this year is a moun­tain to climb.

It is stag­ger­ing how the ANC’s na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee set out to cre­ate a mal­leable, weak and em­bar­rass­ing youth lead­er­ship that seems to be in the dark about what its revo­lu­tion­ary task is.

Their best shot at some in­tel­lec­tual discourse was to mis­take the Is­lamic State for a coun­try and at­tempt some lame in­sult of Trevor Manuel in the wake of the dis­as­trous, in­de­fen­si­ble de­ci­sion to fire Nh­lanhla Nene as the fi­nance min­is­ter – a de­ci­sion con­demned by all right-think­ing South Africans se­ri­ous about the fu­ture. It was a de­ci­sion even the pres­i­dent could not sus­tain be­fore Maine could fin­ish speak­ing in its de­fence.

This is the na­ture of our lat­ter-day youth league – they are peo­ple who, in the face of a glar­ing mess-up by our head of state, will still stand up and blindly de­fend Pres­i­dent Zuma.

Now we know what Zuma meant when he said their sole job was to de­fend the ANC. Maybe he misses the undiplo­matic na­ture of Malema – why else would he call for the youth to be undiplo­matic?

It is now well known that Malema was ex­pelled for be­ing undiplo­matic – so how do we get fed such un­bri­dled pro­pa­ganda? To be made to be­lieve the pres­i­dent ac­tu­ally likes undiplo­matic peo­ple? In the same speech, Zuma made a point of in­sult­ing ev­ery­one from an­a­lysts to the me­dia and com­men­ta­tors. He also high­lighted his dis­dain for op­po­si­tion par­ties do­ing their jobs. Is it be­cause there is an as­sump­tion that we don’t know what this call for de­fence is re­ally about?

I ex­pected slightly bet­ter from Ramaphosa, but af­ter view­ing Min­ers Shot Down (a doc­u­men­tary on the tragedy at Marikana), I think he may feel he has to be be­holden to this level of medi­ocrity just to get into the pound seats with­out too much noise be­ing made about the Marikana al­ba­tross.

I sym­pa­thise com­pletely, be­cause the poor man is be­ing framed and tar­geted – as those such as the league’s lead­ers have now sud­denly de­cided they want a woman to be pres­i­dent. Af­ter us­ing Ramaphosa as a stop­gap mea­sure in Man­gaung at the 2012 ANC elec­tive con­fer­ence, it’s tragic what is go­ing on.

Couldn’t the league start by hav­ing a fe­male youth league pres­i­dent it­self, thereby sav­ing us from Maine? Shouldn’t it at least elect a few women on to its na­tional ex­ec­u­tive?

If it is so gung ho about pass­ing up Ramaphosa for the chance to be pres­i­dent, shouldn’t it at least be ar­gu­ing for a much younger pres­i­dent of the coun­try, in line with global trends, in­stead of want­ing the coun­try to suf­fer un­der yet an­other postre­tire­ment pres­i­dent?

Who is go­ing to go head-to-head with the DA’s Mmusi Maimane and the Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers’ Malema in the 2019 na­tional elec­tions? Are they go­ing to re­ally not make a sen­si­ble ar­gu­ment for gen­er­a­tional mix? Or is the league’s agenda de­ter­mined else­where and geared to­wards merely and blindly de­fend­ing the in­de­fen­si­ble while di­min­ish­ing the elec­toral for­tunes of our move­ment? Is this what is meant by de­fend­ing the ANC? I am afraid the party is play­ing Rus­sian roulette with the fu­ture if it sim­ply wants to dwarf the youth league into be­ing a docile tool to be used as a nar­row fac­tional shield, in­stead of as a spear of change, both within and out­side the ANC’s lead­ing pro­gres­sive and cre­ative pro­grammes to mo­bilise the voice of the youth.

One does not need to be a so­cial sci­en­tist to re­alise that the lame na­ture of the league has fer­tilised the ground for the growth of an al­ter­na­tive move­ment of young peo­ple who find it ir­rel­e­vant.

#FeesMustFall, which the Pro­gres­sive Youth Al­liance sought to hi­jack un­suc­cess­fully, is born from the cur­rent youth league lead­er­ship vac­uum.

It is not too late though … Dy­namic young lead­ers must rise up and save the soul of the youth league by re­fus­ing to be nar­rowly de­fined as de­fen­sive fod­der for lead­ers whose time has, frankly, ex­pired. Ta­bane is au­thor of Let’s Talk Frankly: Let­ters to In­flu­en­tial South

Africans about the State of our Na­tion


A HU­MAN SHIELD FOR ZUMA? From left: The ANC Youth League’s deputy sec­re­tary-gen­eral, Thandi Mo­raka; sec­re­tary-gen­eral Njabulo Nzuzu; pres­i­dent Collen Maine; and deputy pres­i­dent Des­mond Moela dur­ing a press con­fer­ence in Pre­to­ria

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