Members of the ANCYL take part in an economic freedom march in Johannesburg, in 2011. File picture: Denis Farrell/AP
Members of the ANCYL take part in an economic freedom march in Johannesburg, in 2011. File picture: Denis Farrell/AP

I hope the ANCYL can bounce back, because SA youth are struggling

By Zama Mthunzi Time of article published Apr 15, 2021

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The formation and the announcement of the African National Congress Youth League National Youth National Task Team (ANCYL NYTT) on April 8 has brought back the much-needed discussion of youth leadership in the country.

Although the primary objective of the ANCYL NYTT is to deliver the long-awaited congress of the ANCYL that has been postponed several times now, the revival of a once powerful political force in South Africa is on the cards.

One cannot forget the vibrant ANCYL coming from way back, the ANCYL of Anton Lembede with the likes of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo to the more recent ANCYL under the likes of Malusi Gigaba, Fikile Mbalula and lastly Julius Malema.

It is no secret that the ANCYL has been in disarray for almost 10 years now since the departure of Malema, now president of the EFF.

It is concerning that the main worries about the formation of this ANCYL NYTT mostly in the press and the public is that it must not fall in party factions fights, it must not be used by the older comrades and that it must make sure it is independent.

While these are legitimate worries they are not the most important ones, at least when it concerns the struggles of young people and youth leadership.

Due to the crisis of leadership in the ANC itself, with the “RET bloc” - led now by Ace Magashule - and the Cyril Ramaphosa supporters, it is likely that this “revival” might end up being used as a “political knife” in the political battles of the party as the convener Nonceba Mhlauli conveyed.

This may also be made easier by the long crisis in the leadership of the ANCYL in recent years; the discontinuity and inconsistency that we saw with its leadership being disbanded, reinstated, changed, etc.

Another worry that might contribute to this is whether the radical history and memory of the ANCYL will not be passed on to the new leadership and that massive changes within the struggles of young people have occurred and this will require a much deeper understanding on which direction the ANCYL takes going forward.

The ANCYL has been absent in recent crucial struggles of young people. The 2015/2016 Fees Must Fall (FMF) movement and recent 2021 uprising, struggles of learners at schools, struggles against youth unemployment which is at its worst, struggles against gender-based violence, the struggles for the implementation of the basic income grant – the list is endless.

Youth development agencies and youth governance structures like the NYDA have been in crisis, with young people taking the process to court.

The National Youth Policy (2030) is a complete joke and a copy and paste of the National Youth Policy (2015).

The task of the ANCYL NYTT must not only focus on rebuilding the leadership structures which might end up just being a step leader to positions of power in the ANC but it must also focus on reviving itself as the leader movement of young people in South Africa, a movement that took to the streets to fight for free education, against youth unemployment and for the interests of young people before.

It is important that the ANCYL NYTT doesn’t take a linear position that says, 1: We fix the leadership crisis then, 2: We organise and mobilise to fight for young people’s interests.

Young people have borne the brunt of the economic woes of this country. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated these woes of young people. The chaos we saw in public schooling, with closure and opening schools, young people being the first in the retrenchment lines due to the “last in, first out principle” and continuous FMF protests.

The ANCYL should not wait until it is “organised” or “ready” to mount a struggle. The fight is continuing and it has been going on for some time. Young people in the townships, at universities, at workplaces have been part of social struggles.

There is a need of a youth movement in the political arena that is able to organise young people across, to unify and give a sense amongst young people that the struggle of a young person who is financially excluded at Wits is the same struggle of a young person in the township and rural areas who needs that R350 unemployment grant and the same for young women and girls fighting against gender-based violence.

It is important then to ask this question of whether the ANCYL will bounce back and return to the political force we all have known it to be. Historically in South Africa, groups that lose power once never seem to be able to bounce back.

Maybe the reason the ANCYL is important is that no form of national youth organisation has risen in the period of its disarray. The rise of the EFF has been visible but it has not fully taken over the position that was occupied by the Youth League in our townships and rural areas.

The ANCYL might not be the answer to the struggles of young people and it might not go back to its glory days and be a political force, but any form of effort to build youth organisation, to bring back the youth representative structures that have been absent to guide the struggles of young people and to respond to the onslaught on young people presents a moment of hope.

* Zama Mthunzi is a Mathematical Science graduate from Wits University, education activist and recognised as Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 under the education category in 2020.

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

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