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President Mbeki`s address to the Youth League`s 20th National Congress

20 March 1998

Comrade Chairperson

On behalf of the National Executive Committee of the ANC, I would like to welcome the delegates to this Congress. I am also pleased to see so many members of diplomatic corps present here. I know that this represents a continuing interest by the interest by the countries and peoples that they represent in our success in changing our country for the better.

Welcome to the ambassadors and members of the diplomatic corps.

I wish to say that the challenges that face the ANCYL go beyond the League itself. It is the challenges that face the youth of our country. It is my sincere belief that this congress serves as the most appropriate forum which should attempt to identify these challenges and on the basis of the understanding of these challenges set out to work out a program of activity designed to empower the youth for the challenges that face our country.

It is only by correctly identifying these challenges that this congress can fully understand the challenges that face the ANC Youth League. It is only by doing that it can fully appreciate the immensity of the responsibility, which rests on its shoulders.

The imperatives of globalisation and the effect of the restructuring of international relations have again emphasised the point that the destiny of our country and our people us closely intertwined with progress, or lack of it, in the region of Southern Africa and the continent al as a whole.

The last time we addressed the congress of the ANCYL we made the point that the point that the question that must be posed is: will Africa take advantage of the end of decolonization, the end of the Cold War and the advent of a new century to a cultural, social and economic campaign designed to place the continent on the road to renewal and growth. Indeed, we made the point that the generation that history has placed at the epochal conjecture to attain this goal is assembled here today.

No other organisation shall ever again be placed at this moment of transition between the past of slavery and colonialism, and the future of renewal, hope and peace.

Chief Albert Luthuli expressed this very sentiment at the acceptance of this Noble Peace Prize thirty seven years ago. Luthuli was speaking on a different platform in a different epoch but almost forty years hence his appeal talks to one of the most important challenges of our time.

This is what he had to say:

"... let me invite Africa to cast her eyes ... and see herself as an emerging continent, bursting to freedom through the shell of centuries of serfdom. `This is Africa`s age-the dawn of her fulfilment yes the moment when she must grapple with destiny to reach the summits of sublimity, saying ours was a fight for noble values and worthy ends.

" Africa is a vital subject matter in the world of today, a focal point of world interest and concern. Could it not be that history has delayed her rebirth for purpose? The situation confronts her with inescapable challenges, but more importantly with opportunities for service to herself and (uh) mankind. She evades the challenges and neglects the opportunities to her shame if not her doom".

Certainly, you are a leadership of a generation which can evade the challenges in front of it or neglect the opportunities which this historical conjecture present to its shame if not to its doom.

The issues we have raised above address themselves to the issue of the quality of our cadreship.

Do we have the cadre who can be equal to the responsibility that our own success in struggle has imposed on us?

Are we producing the kind of cadre who can emulate, enrich and advance the tradition of struggle we have talked about.

I think we should as it were drink in that great fountain of revolutionary experience in order to produce this cadre of the ANCYL that is needed to ensure that we bring about the changes this country which the millions of our people are crying out for.

We dedicated the year 1997 to the task of building ANC cadre. We have dedicated 1998 to the task of mobilising the people with the aim of consolidating people`s power. In other words we are recommitting ourselves to our policy that the themselves should lead the task of governance and delivery. We are saying that the people should be mobilised in such a way that they take it upon themselves to attend to all the challenges which confronts their communities where they live.

The crucial factor in that mobilisation of the people is the ANC cadre-it is the cadre of the ANCYL.

We are confident that this congress will be equal to the task of correctly identifying challenges that face the youth movement today. We are equally confident that amongst you resides adequate political maturity capable of providing the youth of our country with such policy positions and such a programme of activity as would propel them to higher levels of dedicatiOt1 in their service to the people.

It is for this reason that we would not attempt to dictate to this August congress the detail of what it is which constitute the challenges facing the ANCYL and the youth movement in our country today.

However, it is important to highlight a few of these challenges without getting into a detailed discussion of them because I am certain that they have constituted a big part in the deliberations of your provincial congresses. I should imagine that they are likely to take a significant part of your deliberations in this congress as well.

The first one among these relates to the need to raise the level of ideological and political debates within the youth movement. The issue relates to the need to intensify political education among the cadres of the ANCYL and all the other democratic youth formations in the country.

The onus to ensure that this task is performed rests first and foremost with the ANCYL. There is no other ideological and political home for the majority of the youth of our country outside the ANCYL.

In the recent past the need for the political and ideological discussion among youth formations has expressed itself more dramatically among the student youth in tertiary institutions.

This is not to suggest that this problem does not manifested itself amongst the working, the Unemployed and the youth in the professional sector.

What brought it more sharply among the student youth is the wave of protests linked to financial exclusions in a number of tertiary institutions.

What is significant about these protests is that it was the government that was seen as the final culprit for failing to provide adequate financial support to the needy students. In some instances the point was made loud enough that the government should write off all the outstanding arrears associated with students from the disadvantaged communities.

What is relevant to our deliberations in this congress is that in the majority of the cases the condemnations of government was spearheaded by the students affiliated to the progressive congresses tradition.

Indeed, many a times we were informed that the government is unable or unwilling to salvage the situation of needy students because the ANC has shifted to the right by adopting GEAR and has decided to neglect the poor in order to meet the interests of big capital.

A few points need to be made in this regard.

A point needs to be made that a culture of entitlement on the part of progressive forces can signify an ideological deviation to ultra left position. In essence these ultra left positions can actually feed into the agenda of right-wing forces.

Ultra left ideological positions can be more dangerous that right-wing positions because of the following reasons.

Firstly, they are likely to be articulated from with in and sound like they are expressing the position of many in the progressive movement.]

Secondly, by their very nature they sound radical and hence progressive.

Thirdly, they sound like their concern is primarily the needy and the poor and hence they have the correct appeal.

Raising the political and ideological debate around this question will have to draw our attention to the fact that, part from the student who have reached the tertiary level, a democratic government also carries the responsibility to the education of the adult who never had the opportunity to the class, the youth who does not have means to register even for the first year at school, the kid who attends pre-school education, the young who have to attend school under trees because there are no classrooms.

If we take into consideration the condition of the pupils and students who fall under these categories the question must be posed what becomes of the responsibility of a democratic government.

We must discuss these questions because as we respond to the needs of the youth we should not only respond to those who have the capacity to speak with a voice that is heard but should also respond to the needs of the millions of the youth whose voice is not heard and those who have not even had the privilege to enter a classroom.

I assume that this congress will also receive a report on the progress that the National Youth Commission has made. We are encouraged by the fact that the Commission has met most of the targets it had set itself at its conception.

A few weeks ago it represented its draft Policy Programme to President Mandela.

The responsibility that rests with this congress and the ANCYL is that the implementation of that policy shall need the active participation of the widest section of the youth.

That implementation does not have to await cabinet. Some of the provisions of the draft are already part of the public debate. For example, the call for a National Youth Service Programme has already arouse a lot of public interest.

Indeed some of them are already part of the public debate. For example, the call for a National Youth Service Programme has already arouse a lot of public interest.

Indeed some of them are already part of the ongoing programs.

We shall also await with keen interest the resolutions of this congress on the following challenges facing the youth:

  • The spread of HIV-AIDS
  • The task of preventing and combating crime
  • The task of building a common nationhood free of such incidence as we see in a school in Vryburg. Reconciliation and nation building is an ongoing challenge.
  • The challenge of winning greater numbers of the youth from minority national groups remains priority of our work.
  • The forthcoming job summit enjoins the you to work out its own proposals on how to deal with youth unemployment. It will be important to develop the concept of a National Youth Service Programme with an eye to the need to address unemployment among the youth.

As you would remember Trevor Manuel as one of the steps which government is considering with regard to this matter announced when he represented the budget that there is going to be the establishment of the Usobomvu Fund to help to address youth unemployment.

  • The task promoting the culture of teaching and learning remains one of the important and urgent challenges facing the youth.
  • Our role in the development of the youth movement in the region of Southern Africa, the continent and the world remains one of the important and urgent challenges facing the youth.
  • Our role in the development of the youth movement in the region of Southern Africa, the continent and the world remains an important intervention in promoting a continent and a world characterised by equitable relations, mutual respect, prosperity and stability.
  • Lastly Comrade chairperson 1999 is an election year. Our opponents know that they cannot defeat us but they know they can weaken us. One of the ways of doing that is to embroil the ANC in a fight against itself. They would like to see us turning our spears against ourselves and be weakened in the task of governing the country and delivering the people from the condition of poverty ignorance and general want.

Out of this congress comrade chairperson must come a message that the ANCYL is united that the ANCYL has a clear vision that it is committed to the strengthening of the youth movement that it is committed to attain the goal of national emancipation.