File picture: Phill Magakoe/African News Agency (ANA)
File picture: Phill Magakoe/African News Agency (ANA)

A response to the ANC National Youth Task Team's statement on Youth Day

By Kgotso Maja Time of article published Jun 17, 2020

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Kgotso Maja responds to the ANC National Youth Task Team's statement on Youth Day

Some moments before you issued your statement, there were those who were already sharing a headline with no contents, almost presupposing that you will have nothing to say, of course in jest. It got me to ask myself, “What exactly do we want them to say anyway?” Do we want them to write because it is Youth Day today? Are there specific matters of particular interest to the youth on which we want the ANC National Youth Task Team to labour? Is it just to keep the tradition? Why do we write statements? I did not go as far as finding an answer, but I did take note that you wrote either way. 


I join you in appreciating the role played by those who came before us. Those who laid their lives for this political freedom we enjoy today. In fact this reference to the brave generation of '76 reminds me that before them we had the likes of Lembede, Nkomo, Sisulu and Mandela as the leaders of this gallant youth organisation. Those were politically trained, radical yet analytical, militant yet ideologically clarified leaders who laid a foundation for the Congress Youth League you have been tasked with care-taking to its next National Congress. As part of understanding why - as you assert so correctly - has the daily lived experience of our people not changed as radically as we would have wanted, we need to ask ourselves if all of us collectively represent the calibre of leaders who got us to this point. This, because no people can ever rise above the level of their leaders.

Your reference to the resolutions of the 2011 national conference of the League is refreshing, not only because this was practically the last conference of the ANC Youth League wherein its own members determined its course (whether a correct one or not), but also because the resolutions taken there represent what others have alleged does not exist: a generational mission of young people in our lifetime. The discussion documents to that conference have diagnosed the present-day challenges of young people and our role is to implement the adopted programme of action, of course to an extent that it does not contradict the broad objectives of the African National Congress.

A statement by the ANC Youth League on a day such as (Youth Day) would add much value beyond its therapeutic effect if it were to update the youth on progress relating to implementing their programme. Over and above not “tolerating mediocrity from our leaders in government" and speaking against “Twitter revolutionaries”, we ought to bring young people into confidence as to the practical and meaningful ways in which their issues are advocated and processed by those entrusted with the League. After all, iit is this very same capable collective that came out and enlightened us on its expanded role and greater capacity than we have come to associate with task teams.


Given the complexity of an issue such as this, one would have hoped that the League  would have seized this opportunity to educate its constituency and attempt to address the underlying root causes, how they manifest and reinforce one another. While I second the emphasis on artificial interventions such as strengthening the justice system, I find that the role of the League on this matter has to surely go beyond ordinary parlance. On the prima facie reading of your deposit on this, the so-called average youth will not be mistaken to summarise it as saying “abaholi be Youth League bathi amadoda makayeke ukushaya abafazi, futhi amaphoyisa bayenze umbsebenzi wabo” ("Youth League leaders say men must stop beating women and police must do their jobs").

Gender relations are power relations, in turn power relations have a very huge economic dimension. On the other hand you have a very violent society deeply scarred by a history of national oppression, class exploitation and the patriarchal relations of society embedded across all facets of life, from culture to religion, from political party culture to boardrooms. An attempt to address “femicide” without exploring how all these link to one another and how almost every sector of society has a big contribution thereby a big role to play is insufficient and complies to populist rhetoric.  


So, how exactly will racists “incur the wrath of the NYTT”? A march over there and a statement over here? Discussion on racism and the national question without addressing the concentrated economy and racialised inequality is again, artificial. The European colonial powers did not set out to colonise Africa and the rest of the Southern and Eastern world initially on the basis of race, but in order to expand their economic dominance. Racial exclusion became a convenient and practical mechanism to facilitate accumulation and expansion by imperialists and later the apartheid regime in South Africa. 

Beyond the emotive statements and threats, those who control the means of production know that no other real consequence will visit racists if close to 90% of the population still rely on their handouts for survival. The 2011 national conference resolved on restoring the dignity of black people in general and Africans in particular, by radically transforming ownership patterns, creating meaningful participation of the youth in the mainstream economy and increasing state participation in key sectors of the economy among other things. Our role today, as led by the capable collective of your calibre, is to advance these, and not direct impotent threats to those who do not identify with the new order. Of course, other more “softer” nation-building initiatives should be supported and those who happen to be caught discriminating people on the basis of race must face consequences.


Does the capable collective charged with championing the interests of young people believe that Covid-19 actually presents an opportunity to accelerate our generational mission? If so, why does this section of your statement not raise the issues young people have raised since the beginning of the lockdown, particularly as it relates to how procurement of various products and services has continued to exclude local and small businesses?

The government as a buyer of products and services, ought to have prioritised local and transformed businesses during this period more than ever before. The sourcing of products such as Personal Protective Equipment from China is an indictment on local small businesses and will not assist our efforts of building local capacity. Further, the role of big business has continued to be as we know it: predatory and dominant. With a clearer voice of young people, some of these mistakes would not have happened.

In some parts of the country we have seen young people organising themselves to express their dissatisfaction with the manner in which the issue of illegal foreigners’s takeover of spaza shops has been handled. Understandably, some have come across as too impatient and willing to take matters in their own hands. The voice of young people, in the form of the ANC Youth League, would have gone a long way in both containing the impatience and also causing government to finally attend to this issue in a meaningful way.  

As universities were grappling with the feasibility and modalities of online learning, it was necessary to speak for those young people whose living conditions would not enable productive learning. Fortunately, other Progressive Youth Alliance structures such as Sasco and Cosas raised their voices on this and other issues pertaining to alternative learning platforms. The bigger issue here is that of the digital divide. In such an ever changing and dynamic world, access to the internet has become an actual need and driver of success. The ANC Youth League should drive measurable and practical work on closing the digital divide. The online lectures about the 4th Industrial Revolution do not currently make practical sense to many young people who have less or not access to the internet.

YOUTH DAY 2020 (And henceforth)

If recommendations from a 30-year-old with no political influence are of any value to the capable collective, I will accordingly close my humble deposit with a few. I believe that the problems of the ANC Youth League either started with, or were further complicated by the league's involvement within the factional arrangements of the mother body instead of it mobilising the youth behind the banner of the ANC .

Another problem was that of senior leaders in the ANC seeking to make their influence known by unleashing the Youth League on their adversaries instead of it holding the ANC and its leaders accountable in as far as youth development was concerned. A further problem had to do with the dispensing of patronage instead of meaningful and inclusive empowerment of young people at a larger scale. All these problems combined created an even more crippling situation – the loss of relative autonomy of the league and ultimately the loss of its credibility among the youth.

Logically, if the current capable team in the form of yourselves somewhat repeats one or more of these mistakes in a noble attempt to reassert the image of the league, we will only achieve the opposite and go on a backward and downward trajectory. Youth leaders belong, not in the pockets of this and that other powerful comrade, but to the sites of youth struggles where their skills and energies must be applied earnestly and diligently .

* Kgotso Maja is a socio-economic development activist. A member of the ANC Gauteng Economic Transformation Subcommittee. He writes here in personal capacity.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

Read the ANC NYTT's full statement on Youth Day below


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