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
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