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PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma’s sudden decision not to attend official Youth Day celebrations has come under fire, with the DA suggesting he had “no interest” in engaging with the country’s young people.
The president “chose to abandon the youth of SA on the one day dedicated to their struggles and achievements”, said DA Youth chairwoman Mbali Ntuli.
“His choice is a slap in the face of young people everywhere.”
Zuma had been scheduled to address the official Youth Day event at Port Elizabeth’s Wolfson Stadium, but the Presidency announced the day before that he would instead be travelling to Los Cabos in Mexico for the G20 meeting starting today.
Sent to speak in Zuma’s stead, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane was heckled by a group of supporters of expelled ANC youth leader Julius Malema.
The attempt to disrupt the rally also came under attack, with the SA Youth Council slamming those involved for using the event for “petty politicking” to advance “the cult of an individual”.
Council president Thulani Tshefuta said the disruptions had nothing to do with advancing youth development and that it was “distasteful to use a government event to fight party political battles”.
He said future Youth Day events should be more inclusive.
“We further call on government to conduct an investigation on the happenings at Wolfson Stadium in Port Elizabeth,” Tshefuta said.
“We are disappointed by the fact that most young people have been carefully chosen from a particular group within youth organisations whilst excluding the general populace of the youth.”
However, “no individual or clique” had a monopoly on the solutions to the problems faced by SA’s youth, he said.
“We resist any attempt by the beret brigade to hold youth development to ransom for their self-serving interests other than those of youth,” Tshefuta said, in a reference to Malema and his supporters.
“The introduction of the youth wage subsidy, though we have misgivings about it, is evident that there’s willingness (on the part of the government) to advance youth development and emancipate young people from economic shackles,” he said.
“We see the actions of those who disrupted the proceedings of the National Youth Day as selfish as they sought to deprive the decent young people who attended the event of an opportunity of getting the message that was delivered by Minister Collins Chabane.”
The Presidency’s announcement of Zuma’s change of plan followed reports that security was being tightened for his appearance in Port Elizabeth to deal with a threat that his speech was to be disrupted.
Zuma was confronted with a similar situation in Cape Town in February when disaffected youth league members tried to derail his ANC centenary lecture.
Malema’s chances of having his expulsion reviewed by the ANC’s national executive committee were scotched when it was decided after a fraught special meeting of the body last weekend that there were no compelling grounds for Malema’s case to be taken up.
Malema, who may now feel he has nothing to lose, on Friday reportedly told a gathering in Thohoyandou that Zuma was a “corrupt tribalist” who was president of a faction in the ANC, rather than in charge of the party as a whole.
Malema accused Zuma of stifling debate within the ANC – a charge that ironically was levied against his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki – and said Zuma did not deserve a second term.
“How do you say when you have taken a decision in a democratic society, nobody must talk about it? It’s only dictators who can say that, not the democratic ANC,” The Sunday Independent quoted Malema as saying. “We don’t want the president that is going to be controlled by families outside the ANC. We want the president who will lead with the collective. President Zuma is not that leader.”
Malema was having a field day on Friday while delivering a youth month lecture in Thohoyandou, urging the youth to disrespect Zuma, The Sunday Independent reported, while questioning the ANC's stance on corruption.
“They have never marched against corruption, they have never marched against crime, but they marched against The Spear,” Malema said, referring to last month’s march to the Goodman Gallery in protest against the artwork.
The Mail & Guardian also reported that Zuma’s leadership style was openly criticised last week, with NEC member Siphiwe Nyanda challenging him to prove that he was not a dictator. Nyanda was calling for a review of the Malema case, saying that if Zuma was not a dictator then he needed to prove it by allowing the review of the disciplinary case against Malema and his youth league cronies.
Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale is also said to have lambasted Zuma, accusing him of suppressing views within the ANC.
The president was expected to name new members of the National Youth Development Agency board at the event. However, glitches in the interview process in Parliament meant this had to be delayed.
The DA’s Ntuli accused Zuma of abandoning the youth.
“By failing to remain in South Africa on Youth Day, one of the most important days in South African history, President Zuma has demonstrated once again that he has no interest in engaging the youth of South Africa,” Ntuli said.
She attacked Zuma for failing to implement the youth wage subsidy announced two years ago, for which R5 billion has been earmarked.
Ntuli accused Zuma of delaying implementation of the scheme because he was reliant on Cosatu’s goodwill to be re-elected for a second term at the ANC’s national elective conference in Mangaung.
“On the youth wage subsidy the president has chosen to sell out the dreams of young South Africans to his own political aspirations,” she said.