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PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma’s sudden decision not to attend official Youth Day celebrations has come under fire, with the opposition DA suggesting he had “no interest” in engaging the country’s young people.
The president “chose to abandon the youth of South Africa 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, Mexico, for the G20 meeting that starts today.
Sent to speak in Zuma’s stead, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane was heckled by a rowdy group of supporters of expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema.
The attempt to disrupt the rally 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”.
“We further call on government to conduct an investigation on the happenings at Wolfson Stadium,” Tshefuta said.
“We are disappointed by the fact that most young people had been carefully chosen from a particular group within youth organisations, whilst excluding the general populace of the youth.
“We resist any attempt by the beret brigade to hold youth development to ransom,” Tshefuta said, in a reference to Malema and his supporters.
“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 an opportunity of getting the message that was delivered by Minister 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 at a fraught special meeting of the body last week 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, that nobody must talk about it? It’s only dictators who can say that, not the democratic ANC,” The Sunday Independent reported Malema as having said.
“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 reportedly said.
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,” she said.
She also attacked Zuma for failing to implement the youth wage subsidy he announced two years ago, for which R5 billion has been earmarked. The proposal is bitterly opposed by Cosatu and the youth league.
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.