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Several ANC Youth League members have complained that an attempt was made to marginalise the group by assigning it seats in the furthest corner of the cavernous hall for President Jacob Zuma’s opening speech of the ANC policy conference.
League spokeswoman Magdalene Moonsamy, however, said league delegates had found no seating had been allocated for them for the opening speech at Gallagher Estate in Midrand on Tuesday.
“We didn’t know where we were supposed to be seated, (so) we just found a place,” Moonsamy said. “It must have been a simple logistical oversight. There was nothing mischievous.”
Signs were, however, in place marking seating for league delegates, in the corner furthest from the stage, in what appeared to be an attempt to spare Zuma any embarrassing contact with the youth league.
Zuma told the party’s national executive committee (NEC) earlier this month that the expulsion of youth league president Julius Malema would not be reviewed at the policy conference.
But Moonsamy vowed on Tuesday that Malema-aligned league members would raise the question of his expulsion during the conference.
Although Moonsamy believed there had not been anything deliberate in the choice of seating for league delegates, an NEC member, who asked not to be named, said attempts were being made to “marginalise” the league.
“Marginalising of the youth league is going on. I sympathise with them a lot because I am a former member,” the NEC member said.
“We need to protect our children. Bakhumbul’ ikhaya abantwana (The children miss home).”
Earlier in the day, there had been rumours that there would be a youth league no-show, but Western Cape league leader Senzeni Mphila said:
“There’s nothing like that.
“All the youth league delegates are here.”
ANC spokesman Keith Khoza denied there had been any deliberate attempts to sideline the league.
“If there was a problem it might have been people who were (assigning seats for) delegates. Remember, somebody has to be at the back,” he said.
Had the KwaZulu-Natal delegation or the ANC Women’s League been assigned seats at the back of the hall, they would not have cried foul, Khoza said.
He conceded it was possible that signs had not been up at the beginning of the day to mark seating for league delegates.
In what some people interpreted as a stern warning to the youth league, Zuma said in his opening speech that the ANC should be able to “cleanse itself of alien tendencies which range from wanton ill-discipline to those linked to incumbency”.
He warned that the ANC had taken action before and would “continue to take action against anyone who crosses the line”.
“We all have a responsibility to maintain the character of the organisation, restore its core values and protect its dignity and integrity,” Zuma said.
He urged delegates to “strengthen and guide” the league in particular, so it could “continue its work of being an incubator for future political leadership”.
After Zuma’s address, Mphila led calls for the media to be asked to leave the open plenary session while delegates’ credentials for the conference were being confirmed.
Credentials are required to ensure access for delegates to the closed sessions of the conference.