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Address by ANC President Jacob Zuma to the 23rd National Congress of the ANC Youth League

3 April 2008, Mangaung, Bloemfontein

The President of the ANC Youth League, Cde Fikile "Vutha" Mbalula,
The Secretary General, Cde Sihle Zikalala,
All officials and members of the NEC of the Youth League,
The Members of the NEC of the ANC and Women`s League,
General Secretary of Cosatu, Cde Zwelinzima Vavi,
General Secretary of the SACP, Cde Blade Nzimande,
Young Lions of Oliver Tambo!
Distinguished guests,

On behalf of the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress, the thousands of South Africans who have sworn to be loyal and disciplined members of our movement, and on behalf of the millions more who have consistently and faithfully supported our movement over decades - I bring you revolutionary greetings.

Today, on the occasion of the 23rd National Congress of the ANC Youth League, we salute you, the fighting youth of our country. We salute you for your courage, determination and tireless struggle to liberate our people from all forms of discrimination and oppression.

As you gather in the birthplace of our revolutionary movement, you are no doubt conscious that your actions and decisions will be judged by history. You will be judged by our ancestors who rose up against the tyranny of colonial dispossession and subjugation, the stalwarts of our movement who sacrificed all so that democracy may reign supreme over our land; and, most importantly, by the generations to come, for whose opportunities you must bear responsibility.

The question that must be asked is how history will judge what happens here in Mangaung over the next few days? Only you, the representatives of the branches of the ANC Youth League, can provide the answer. This is the challenge that we wish to place before you this morning - the challenge of making history, of making a decisive contribution to the emancipation of our people and of shaping the future of our nation.

This is a mammoth task that falls on your shoulders even though some may think you are too young to bear such a burden. The very formation of the ANC Youth League over six decades ago changed the course of our history and marked a seminal moment in our struggle against apartheid.

It signaled that young people could take responsibility not only for their own liberation, but for the liberation of all. It sent a message that youthfulness is a vital source of vigorous, deliberate and determined action.

Let me reiterate that it is not a matter of coincidence or accident that the youth have been at the centre of every crucial moment of the intensification of our struggle, from generation to generation.

The youth of the 1940s revitalized the movement. The adoption by Congress of the 1949 Programme of Action ushered in a new era of militant mass struggles, in which the movement mobilised people to directly confront the apartheid system.

It marked a shift, launching a decade in which the popularity, significance and impact of the ANC was at a level that had never before been achieved in its half century of existence. The 1950s and 60s saw a new shift, leading to the launch of the armed struggle. At that crucial moment in our history, again the youth were at the forefront.

During the 1970s, from the organisation of workers to the development of the black consciousness movement, youth and students provided organisational and ideological direction. These struggles culminated in the Soweto uprising of 1976, where school children took on the might of the National Party regime, many paying the ultimate price for their burning desire for freedom.

The school children signaled not only to the regime, but also to their own parents and elders, that no longer will the youth of South Africa be passive objects of racist oppression.

They flocked in their thousands to join the movement in exile, swelling the ranks of the people`s army, Umkhonto we Sizwe, massively changing the scale and intensity of the armed struggle. Again, at that crucial moment in our history, the youth were at the forefront.

These young patriots, who were prepared to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people, became an inspiration to the next generation of youth. During the 1980s, as the apartheid regime unleashed their `Total Strategy` against the people of South Africa, it was the Young Lions who responded, not by cowering into submission, but by intensifying internal resistance.

It was the Young Lions who made apartheid ungovernable, and forced the faltering National Party government to the negotiating table. At that crucial moment in our history, the youth were at the forefront.

We find ourselves, again, at such a crucial moment. The 52nd National Conference of the ANC, declared, quite correctly, that South Africa is on the correct path, advancing yet further towards the complete liberation of all our people each day.

As we said in the Declaration in Polokwane: "Conference celebrated the many achievements we have made in the years since 1994. 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."

Therein lies the challenge to our youth.

As we meet here in Mangaung, a mere 100 days since Polokwane, we are called upon to reflect on the meaning of that goal of a better life for all. For the majority of our people, this `better life` is not an abstract concept, but a practical response to the everyday reality of our people. It is about bricks and cement, the availability of school books, the price of maize meal, the water that has been disconnected, and the university fees that must somehow be paid.

It is about translating the decisions we took at Polokwane into programmes that make a real difference on each of the issues that concern the people of South Africa.

One of these for youth is the creation of decent work opportunities. Some of our youth sit in street corners due to the fact that there are no jobs or income generation opportunities for them. You have heard the President of the Youth League making the clarion call and asking "uzoyithola kanjani uhleli ekhoneni?``

That signals the spirit of action amongst youth, to implement our economic transformation policies, which are centred on creating decent work opportunities, bridging the gap between the rich and poor and attacking poverty.

We are encouraged by the increase in the net rate of jobs being created, making the target of halving unemployment by 2014 somewhat a realisable goal. Yet, this provides little comfort to those that remain jobless. It does not feed their children, or pay their rent. Clearly, our work is far from complete.

Young Lions, the youth of this democratic era face the enormous challenge of defending the ANC, and to consolidate the gains we have made in the national democratic revolution. Effective consolidation requires the building and strengthening of the ANC. When we talk of reaching the target of one million members by the year 2010, we look to the energy of the youth to lead that campaign.

At the National General Council in Port Elizabeth in 2001, we spoke of the need to develop a new cadre of the ANC. The Youth League must be seen and heard living the character, traditions and values of the ANC.

As the custodian of our future, the Youth League must also continue to play a critical role in deepening the democracy that our people sacrificed so much for.

We look upon the League to defend the country`s Constitution, which is the cornerstone of the rights and dignity of our people, especially the vulnerable and marginalized. The rule of law, Bill of Rights, the separation of powers between the legislature, executive and judiciary are some of the tenets of our Constitution that we must continue to guard jealously.

Most importantly, the task of implementing Polokwane resolutions rests upon all of us. The policies speak to all the challenges that face our people. For as long as millions of our people live in shacks, when children go hungry and die of preventable diseases, and when people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS are stigmatized and marginalized, it indicates that our work is far from complete.

We have a lot of work to do if the rural poor cannot grow enough food even to feed themselves; as long as the students in our schools struggle to read, write and calculate; for as long as the urban masses spend their winters under a cloud of smoke from coal fires because they do not have electricity.

For as long as our people live in fear of violent crime; when women are raped and children abused; when our elderly are neglected; and orphans left destitute, the Youth League has a lot of work to do. In Polokwane we spoke of reviving street committees. No structure of the ANC can effectively drive that campaign better than the Youth League, working with Community Policing Forums and our hardworking and dedicated police officials.

We resolved in Polokwane that in order to address underdevelopment and eradicate poverty, we must emphasise 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.

Education is the key to meaningful socio-economic transformation. We said that Maths, science and information technology must be promoted and supported and that we should eradicate mud schools as part of the Expanded Public Works (EPW) programme.

We also announced the National Mass Literacy campaign in the January 8 Statement. It will see 80,000 tutors engaged to enable 4, 7 million adults to achieve basic literacy and numeracy by 2012. The youth should be at the forefront of this campaign nationally, as they were during the mass struggles of past decades.

We applaud the sterling work you are doing on social crime prevention, especially the campaign against the abuse of alcohol and drugs. It can only yield positive results for the country. As our Government`s National Drug Master Plan states, the scourge of substance abuse continues to ravage our families and communities, particularly our youth, contributing to crime, unemployment, spread of infectious diseases and other social ills. Figures from the country`s Central Drug Authority indicate that 37% of our population engages in binge-drinking and drug-taking over weekends. It is also estimated that alcohol abuse is a factor in nearly half of collisions and crashes on our roads. Add to this the fact that the age of first experimentation with drugs has dropped to children who are 10 years of age. A lot of work needs to be done to ensure that we reverse the trends and eliminate alcohol and drug abuse amongst all our people, especially children and the youth.

Comrades, I have been informed by young people that when we talk of a new cadre especially in the Youth League, it should refer to a well-rounded cadre who also participates in sports and other social activities!

In your deliberations bear this in mind, especially in light of the 2010 World Cup and other opportunities that are forthcoming. Let us create conditions for the World Cup to develop as many sports facilities and economic opportunities as possible for our youth.

Comrades, Young Lions, let me re-emphasise that the Youth League is the custodian of the future of the ANC.

The youth has provided the insight, direction and capacity to bring about radical changes in the scope and intensity of our revolution throughout the recent history of our movement.

You are therefore playing your rightful role when you participate actively in the processes of the ANC, including influencing the leadership composition, as the League has been doing for decades. You also continue to guard the ANC, ensuring that we do not stray from the democratic traditions of the movement. In the same vein, as the mother body, we face the responsibility of ensuring the continued growth, strength and success of the Youth League. The non-negotiable bottom line for that success is unity.

We have noted the public speculation surrounding the contestation of leadership within the League. The leadership contestation is a healthy democratic process that must be allowed at all times. What is problematic is when the lobbying and pushing of our preferences becomes so entrenched and pronounced that it begins to be misconstrued as ideological differences.

We then begin to run the risk of division, which we must avoid at all times.

Let me implore all delegates to put the organization first, regardless of leadership preferences. The unity of the ANC Youth League and the ANC is of paramount importance and should override all other considerations.

Comrades, let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the outgoing leadership of the Youth League for selfless service to the movement. Under the able and outstanding stewardship of Cde Fikile "Vutha" Mbalula, Secretary General Sihle Zikalala and all officials and NEC members, the League has played a visible and vibrant role in the ANC and South African life in general.

You will be handing over to the new leadership an organization that did not depart from the traditions of the Youth League of old. The militancy, outspokenness, fearlessness and eagerness to engage in the battle of ideas on any issue in society have been a hallmark of the Youth League under your leadership.

As the ANC, we pride ourselves on having a robust Youth League that raises issues that are in the best interest of our movement and country, as vociferously as you do. Certainly, nobody in this country can ignore the ANC Youth League!

The conference must build further on that tradition.

On a personal note, I would like to thank the Youth League for being amongst those who actively backed the resolution of the ANC NEC and NGC to support the then deputy president of the ANC as I was being taken to court at different times. They practically demonstrated the true meaning of comradeship, and a commitment to the supremacy of the country`s Constitution.

It augurs well for the future of our country that our young people went all out to fight for respect for the rule of law, the right to human dignity, the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and equality of all before the law. Comrades, we are watching the situation in Zimbabwe very closely. We urge our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe to respect the will of the people, regardless of the results of the election. Working together as Zimbabweans they will be able to find solutions to any challenges that will arise out of the elections.

I wish you fruitful deliberations and a successful conference.

Amandla!
Matla!
Matimba!