Collen Maine, a member of North West's cabinet, was elected unopposed as chairman of the ANCYL. Picture: Supplied
Collen Maine, a member of North West's cabinet, was elected unopposed as chairman of the ANCYL. Picture: Supplied

ANCYL didn’t rise from the ashes

By Eusebius McKaiser Time of article published Sep 7, 2015

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The ANC Youth League lost an opportunity to elect a role model for those under 35, writes Eusebius McKaiser.

The ANC Youth League failed to rise from the ashes at the weekend. It will have to be content with a glorious past that can’t be taken away. The league’s future, I’m afraid, remains as bleak as an English winter.

The bruising battle between former ANCYL president Julius Malema and ANC president Jacob Zuma a few years ago was clearly at the fatal expense of the youth league. Over the past few days, the way in which the ANCYL conducted its elective congress proved this failure to breathe life into this dead animal.

The most damning thing about the congress was the lack of contestation for top leadership positions. The league just isn’t interested in democracy. This was a lost opportunity to role-model to the mother body what “organisational renewal” really looks like.

If the ANCYL is to remain a powerful force inside the ANC, it needs to be ahead of the elders. Just as militant youth in the league questioned the effectiveness of passive resistance against apartheid, so the youth of today have to agitate for timely changes in the party’s organisational culture.

One of the ways in which the ANC must change, yet, is to allow for more effective, open and greater internal democracy. It shouldn’t be the case that someone can be elected into a senior position without uttering a word about their vision for the leadership position they are running for, articulating why they have the requisite skills-set to realise that vision, and why they are the best candidate among all the competitors. Healthy contestation of ideas and leadership positions is the lifeblood of a democracy.

If there isn’t a deeply entrenched democratic culture inside the ANC, you thereby reduce the chances of the party having a long-lasting love affair with democracy outside the party. And this, for me, is where the league had a chance to break with the revolutionary habits of the ANC of yesteryear.

Yet, despite at least three people being willing to become president of the ANCYL, a bizarre and hasty elective process resulted in one Collen Maine being elected unopposed. The rules that resulted in this outcome were anti-democratic. Not in the sense of being unlawful as such, but certainly not in the spirit of promoting maximum contestation of ideas and leadership.

Why would you impose an unduly high threshold for whether someone who is nominated can have their name added to a ballot? The only purpose of such a threshold is to shut down debate and contestation. That, in turn, is an antiquated practice fit for a time when you’re anxiously and urgently fighting a violent apartheid state, and laborious democratic practices are less important that annihilating the colonial enemy.

But this is 2015, for goodness’ sake. The war is over. We’re living in a democracy that the ANC itself helped design and signed up for, and legitimated. The consequence of this context change is that the party can’t do business as usual.

But instead of role-modelling internal democracy, the league allowed the elders to dictate the process, in a choreographed dance aimed at pacifying young people. Such is the legacy of Malema that everything about the past few days was about preventing the remaining roaring lions, who could annoy the elders, taking control of the league. At times one wasn’t sure whether one was watching a league congress or an elective congress of the ANC itself.

Some delegates looked older than my uncles and aunts, and my uncles and aunts are definitely older than 34.9 years. Which brings me, finally, to the other tragedy of the past few days. Where was the youth? There was a remarkable absence of young people at an event aimed at young people. When will the ANCYL stop the absurdity of thinking that someone who is as old as 34 is “youth”? I refuse to regard anyone older than 30 as “youth”. That’s just absurd.

Maine is not a children! He is an adult already serving in the provincial cabinet in North West. This isn’t to say that young people can’t be in executive positions. But, surely, someone who is already in a very senior and demanding portfolio in the state should struggle to have the time and energy to be a committed, full-time leader of a youth organisation that needs to renew itself, to build the organisation from scratch.

This question can only be put to Maine, however, if there is a contested election. And, who knows, he may be able to handle questions about his age, vision, time and energy. But you wouldn’t know that if anti-democratic rules are used to prevent internal democracy from taking root.

The ANCYL wasted a good crisis this past weekend.

* Eusebius McKaiser is the best-selling author of A Bantu In My Bathroom and Could I Vote DA? A Voter’s Dilemma.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.


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