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Closing Address delivered by the President of the African National Congress (ANC), Comrade Jacob Zuma, to the ANC Youth League Congress

29 June 2008, Johannesburg

Leadership of the ANC Youth League, led by President
Comrade Julius Malema,
Leaders from different youth formations,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Youth of South Africa,
Comrades and friends,

Comrades, we meet here today to officially close the Congress of the ANC Youth League.

This ANC Youth League Conference takes place two months after your conference in Mangaung failed to finish its business. This is therefore a continuation of that Congress.

The reasons for the adjournment of your congress were many and varied largely owing to the fact that it was marked by incidents of intolerance, ill discipline and a general misbehaviour from delegates.

It was a highly emotional conference that could not discuss matters within the prescripts of ANC culture. Delegates came to that conference with their clear preferences on their choices of leadership and were not prepared to compromise and behave in manner that was expected of them.

It was shocking to see how far and to what extremes most delegates were prepared to go to have their preferred candidates elected. The conference was marred by such unruly behaviour that it was difficult to imagine it as an ANC Youth League conference.

What we saw there was disgusting to say the least, you treated each other as enemies rather than as fellow ANC Youth League comrades. You were prepared to even embarrass this glorious youth movement in front of the whole country and the international guests that you had invited.

It is not proper or within ANC culture to have comrades carrying coffins bearing the names of other comrades to the conference hall.

It is not proper to howl at ANC speakers because you perceive them to support one candidate from another.

It is not proper to undress in front of a conference when election results are announced, no matter how you feel about the outcome. Such behaviour must stop! Such behaviour cannot be allowed to develop within our movement.

However we believe that sufficient time has elapsed and has made each delegate here to do some self-introspection about what happened and why. You have had time to reflect on the conference and you have came back to make amends for your mistakes and rectify your weaknesses.

I want to believe that you have learnt important lessons from that conference such that you are all committed that this one becomes one of the most successful conferences you have ever attended.

It is within this context that I want to draw your attention to a life of another young person who at roughly your age managed to shape the thinking and direction of our country in ways more meaningful and more historic.

The African National Congress, the oldest liberation movement in Africa, formed in 1912, owes its very existence to young people and the ideas of young people.

You will remember that it was the idea of a young Pixley ka Isaka Seme who was the prime mover behind the formation of the ANC. Seme, at the age of 31, made a clarion call to Africans to unite, when he said:

"The demon of racialism, the aberrations of the Xhosa-Fingo feud, the animosity that exists between the Zulus and the Tongas, between the Basutos and every other Native must be buried and forgotten; it has shed among us sufficient blood! We are one people! These divisions, these jealousies, are the cause of all our woes and of all our backwardness and ignorance today".

Pixley ka Isaka Seme was not just speaking about tensions among ethnic groups of South Africa, his message was universal to the African continent as a whole.

His message is still relevant today; it finds resonance with the present day Africa. We need to heed his call as we try to build a better Africa and a better world.

At the age of 25 Pixley ka Isaka Seme was already thinking about the problems and challenges that face his own people and was making strategic interventions, such as when he wrote about the regeneration of Africa when no one else was thinking about such issues. He was young yet visionary. He was young yet he could properly think and apply his mind to bigger issues.

Let us not forget what he stood for and what he believed in, in our interactions with our fellow Africans. Let us honour his memory and legacy by ensuring that South Africa is a country, which is tolerant of all Africans from the continent and the Diaspora. Let us stand firm against xenophobic tendencies.

Comrades, the ANC Youth League should recall that each generation of young people has always carved its own niche at various stages of our revolution.

From Seme in 1912, to the Mandela Generation of 1944, to the Biko and Black Consciousness Movement Class of the late 1960s, to the Class of 1976 and the Class of Peter Mokaba of the mid-1980s and today`s generation.

Today, in closing this congress, we must remember, honour and salute the entire `Class of the 1944" which was responsible for the birth of this important organisation of young people of our country. It is opportune for us to do, as we move towards the 90th birthday celebration of one of the founding fathers of the ANC Youth League, Isithwalandwe Comrade President Nelson Mandela. We salute you Madiba!

We must also salute the first President of the ANC Youth League Comrade Anton Muziwakhe Lembede. We salute Comrades Oliver Reginald Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Ashby Peter Mda, Dr. William Nkomo, Jordan Ngubane, David Bopape, Dr. Mxolisi Majombozi, Wilson Zami Chonco, Govan Mbeki, Arthur Letele, Congress Mbatha, Lancelot Gama, Bigvai Masekela, Dan Tloome, Johannes Matlou, Robert Maji and many others who were part of that historic founding congress.

We salute the vision and foresight of those young pioneers who were part of that historic decision and subsequent action to form this giant youth movement, of all progressive minded young people of our country.

The formation of the ANC Youth League came as a result of a political vacuum that existed in our national liberation struggle then. It came as a result of the young people of that time who met at the University of Fort Hare, and analysed the situation and the challenges that confronted them at that time.

They realised that there was enough political space and room for an organisation of young people to exist.

There was a need for an organisation that would champion the concerns of the youth within the ANC, inject new ideas to the ANC, set the ANC on a new and revolutionary path and serve as a political preparatory school for young people within the ANC.

Indeed, the ANC Youth League has been the lifeblood of the ANC. The Youth League has always played a critical and pivotal role in shaping the direction and vision of the ANC. This started with the adoption of the militant Programme of Action of 1949, which changed the methods of struggle, strategies and tactics of the ANC.

This programme transformed the ANC to a militant, dynamic, vibrant, mass movement of popular mass mobilization of the people for freedom.

How did the ANC Youth League transform the ANC? There were two important elements to this agenda which were interlinked, that was: (i) developing a Programme of Action to be adopted by the whole organisation and, (ii) finding suitable leadership to implement that POA.

The ANC Youth League POA of 1949 required a certain type of leadership to implement, a leadership that would be committed to the vision of moving the ANC from being an elitist organisation, to a vibrant mass movement that the ANC became from the 1950`s onwards.

The Youth League injected life, enthusiasm and vibrancy of youth in all major campaigns of the movement.

All campaigns had a major contribution of the Youth League, as an organised political formation within the African National Congress.

From the Defiance Campaign, to the adoption of the Freedom Charter, from the anti-pass marches, to the bus boycotts, from the adoption of the armed struggle, leading to the 1976 student uprising, and the wave of mass political mobilisation that took place in the mid 1980s to the present day.

You should always remember Young Lions, that each generation of Youth League leaders had specific tasks to perform in our national democratic struggle imposed by the concrete conditions of their times.

When the Soweto 1976 Generation of the youth were faced with issues of Bantu Education and the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, they rose against the regime and waged one of the most heroic and historic struggles that were ever waged in South Africa.

The role of the youth was critical in all these developments, the contribution of young people led OR Tambo to call them the `young lions`, who took the liberation movement`s instructions very seriously.

When the ANC called on South African people to `make the country ungovernable and make apartheid unworkable` the youth took such calls with enthusiasm.

The historic contribution of youth throughout all the past decades poses a challenge to young people of today - your generation - as well. You are challenged to critically look at the matters that exist in our country today and correctly diagnose the situation and come out with proper solutions to your own challenges.

For you to be taken seriously as Pixley ka Isaka Seme was, or any of the founding fathers and mothers of the League, you have to start now to chart your legacy.

Firstly you must deal decisively with the issue of discipline, which reared its ugly head during the first Mangaung conference of the Youth League.

As you are aware the ANC YL is the political preparatory school of the ANC, and its leadership. In the history of the ANC, the ANC has always occupied at strategic centre and role in defending and jealously building unity in the ANC.

This requires commitment, selflessness, dedication and high levels of political discipline on the members of the ANC YL at all times, however difficult it may get at times. Before you do anything ask yourself a critical question is my behaviour befitting of a Youth League cadre? Always remember that we join the ANC as individuals to advance a revolution and to liberate our people from socio-economic bondage.

You must understand that for any revolution to succeed, it requires unprecedented levels of political discipline and maturity.

You must always be ready to engage in a disciplined fashion. You must always be ready to serve and to be at the service of the people without any expectation of material gains.

Comrades, you must understand that the ANC is a democratic organisation, and naturally within its democratic processes there will always be divergent views and different ideas.

What is important is how you express those differences. They must never be taken at a personal level. Points must be raised in a disciplined manner.

We may differ politically, have different preferences on leadership, but, regardless of our differences, we must always rise above pettiness and any behaviour that is unbecoming of an ANC member. It is your responsibility to protect the integrity and image of this movement and serve as bulwark of unity and cohesion of the ANC.

Historically the ANC has had discipline as one of its most cherished values; and as a central pillar.

To us discipline is everything it means that you must have a grasp and understanding of our theory of revolution and the ability to articulate its strategic objective, that of building a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society.

Discipline to the ANC means that we must learn to listen and respect the opinions of others whilst maintaining the fundamental principle of collective decision making and a respect for a culture of democratic centralism.

It is your responsibility to teach the principles, culture and ethos of our movement, especially to those who have recently joined the movement. You must teach and educate all on the value system of the ANC.

Democratic centralism should be understood to mean that once the organisation has taken decisions they are binding even to those who did not advocate them. In the ANC we put the organisation above the individual, the unity of the organisation is central and must be protected at all times. We must fight against liberalism that is permeating the Youth League as experienced at your last conference.

The respect of our value system means we must refuse to manipulate the imperfect administration system of the organisation.

We must never see scenes that we saw at the Mangaung conference. We must reject such abominable behaviour it is un-ANC and anti ANC. No one should ever be allowed to disrupt the Constitutional meetings of the ANC, be it a branch meeting, regional congress or a provincial congress or a conference of any of our leagues.

You as young people must be the agents of change and champions of the interests of the people and custodian of our organisational discipline and internal democracy.

The generation of Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela taught us to respect the values that I have spoken about and further emphasized that a revolution would not accomplish its tasks if it does not display the highest level of discipline.

Comrades you must concern yourselves with the urgent challenges that face young people in our country. What are the challenges that face our young people today? One of the critical challenges is that of defending our hard won freedom, through taking practical actions.

The Polokwane Declaration says that: "The democratic freedoms that we won became the cornerstone upon which we are advancing towards a better life for all.

The faster pace of job creation, the unbroken period of economic growth, the extension of social security and the delivery of basic services are improving the conditions of life for millions. Our work is far from complete."

We need to translate the decisions we took at Polokwane into tangible programmes that make a real difference on each and every issue that concern the people of South Africa, especially young people.

One of these for the youth is the creation of decent work opportunities. Most of our youth sit in street corners due to the fact that there are no jobs or income generation opportunities for them.

We need young people who understand that the freedom that we have does not only give us a right to be job seekers.

You must do everything in your power to ensure that young people are encouraged to look beyond job seeking opportunities but to be job creators themselves.

That means that our youth must be part and parcel of economic transformation that is taking place in our country.

It means that the youth must be at the centre of developing policies that will result in creating decent work opportunities, that will bridge the gap between the rich and poor and ultimately confront poverty and unemployment.

It is also the responsibility of the Youth League, to ensure that youth development initiatives are strengthened. The Youth League must be at the centre of spearheading efforts to develop lives of young people by ensuring that they access opportunities created by state institutions that deal with youth development.

You must be part and parcel of processes to empower and develop the youth, by ensuring that the opportunities that have been opened up by our hard won democracy are utilised to the fullest.

Crime is one critical challenge that faces our country and which poses a serious threat to our democracy. I am sure that this conference provided you with an opportunity to deal with this issue. I am confident that you have discussed strategies of how you are going to deal with the scourge of crime as it affects our society today.

For as long as our people live in fear of violent crime; when women are raped and children are abused; when our elderly are abused, the Youth League has a lot of work to do. It has a duty to define its role and carve its niche around the current challenges.

In Polokwane we spoke of reviving street committees.

No structure of the ANC can effectively drive that campaign better than the ANC Youth League, working with the Community Policing Forums and our hardworking and dedicated police officials.

You will need to engage in practical and visible actions that should be geared to finding solutions to crime and its violent nature.

The ANC 52nd Conference thoroughly reflected on issues of safety and security and resolved that all our structures must take a lead in supporting and strengthening Community Safety Forums (CSFs).

We expect young people to play a leading role in this especially as it relates to School Safety as well as Tourism Safety. We also expect you to play an instrumental role in participating in CSFs, and the formation of Community Policing Forums in your communities.

There are a number of other areas in which our youth can practically assist to take forward the struggle to overcome the current challenges.

These include first and foremost in building and strengthening the people`s movement, the ANC in all corners of the country. You must swell the ranks of the ANC as the 1976 Youth Generation did thirty-two years ago.

A stronger ANC means stronger and better programmes and the possibility of better delivery for our people.

In building the ANC remember what Comrade O.R. Tambo said to us, when he said: "A country, a movement, a people, that does not value its youth, does not deserve its future."

I want to add and echo his sentiments by adding that as the youth you must value your country, your movement and your people. As the ANC we put a lot of value in the talent and commitment of young people hence we always give enough room for young people to express their ideas and vision as that is what has sustained us all these years.

The ANC Youth League of today also has a challenge of ensuring that the youth of our country are prepared for the challenges of the future and has to emphasise the role that education can play and the importance of acquiring the skills relevant to the economy.

We resolved in Polokwane that in order to address underdevelopment and eradicate poverty, we must emphasise the issue of quality education and health for the next five years.

Noting the hardships faced by our youth, we resolved to progressively introduce free education for the poor until undergraduate level.

This goal must be our central focus as it is through education that we can secure the future of our country and build a prosperous South Africa. Education is the key to meaningful socio-economic transformation.

We said that Mathematics, science and information technology must be promoted and supported and that we should eradicate mud schools as part of the Expanded Public Works (EPWP) programme.

We also announced the National Mass Literacy campaign in the January 8 Statement, which will see 80,000 tutors engaged to enable 4, 7 million adults to achieve basic literacy and numeracy by 2012. For all these things that we say must be done and achieved, we will need to put clear performance standards by which we can judge ourselves whether we are achieving our objectives or not.

The youth should be at the forefront of these campaigns nationally, as they were during the mass struggles of past decades.

I cannot leave this podium before stressing the importance of the role of the youth in combating the spread of HIV and AIDS. The ANC Youth League must continue to play a central role in sending out clear and unambiguous message when it comes to HIV and AIDS.

It must continue to emphasise the importance of the ABC strategy, of abstinence for as long as possible for those who are not yet sexually active, being faithful to a single partner and highlighting the importance of using condoms to avoid contracting HIV.

If the ANC Youth League of today can deal with these issues and respond in the affirmative it will remain relevant to the majority of the youth, and would have carved its own niche like the other generations before this period. It will have as much impact as the Youth Generation of 1944. Work begins after this Congress, and we know that you are up to the task!

Our youth will triumph in all endeavours to build a brighter future for themselves and all future generations, in memory of the gallant fighters of June 16, 1976!

Viva the ANC Youth League Viva!!
Amandla!!
Awethu!!