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21st National Congress: Discussion document - Coming of age: Political positioning and organizational renewal of the League

We shall strife still, in the 21st century, to make the ANCYL a representative organ of the best youth in society.
President Malusi Gigaba. Vision 2000


The 21st Congress of the ANC Youth League takes place a decade after the relaunch of the League, as a legal mass movement at Kwandebele in 1991. It should be a coming of age Congress for the League in many ways.

The role of the ANCYL then, as is now, remains the mobilization of young people behind the vision of the ANC and championing their interests in the ANC and broader society. However, the new conditions under which the League is expected to pursue this role have changed, so has the nature and character of the youth constituency it seeks to mobilize.

During the 90`s, these issues were discussed and debated within the League, the ANC and the broader youth movement. A number of measures have been introduced in response to these realities. However the changes introduced in the League, have been incremental and not part of a holistic re-positioning and organizational renewal programme.

The Youth Vision 2000 document was the first comprehensive attempt to state the mission of the new generatiossion of the new generation of youth that the ANCYL seeks to lead. However, it has not been translated into an effective repositioning and organizational renewal programme.

This discussion paper will therefore restate the expectations of the ANC from its Youth League; examine the character of today`s youth and review youth development and organization during the 90s. It will make suggestions on the necessary steps required to regenerate the Youth League, to position it at the centre of youth struggles for a better life and ensure that the South African youth is a powerful force for transformation.

The ANC and its Youth League - are we meeting expectations

The ANC has defined the role of the League in its various Constitutions and Strategy and Tactics documents. The League has defined this role as the twin tasks of mobilizing youth behind the vision of the ANC and to fight for the social and economic rights of youth.

The central mission of the ANC remains the creation of a democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa. The ANC`s Strategy and Tactics (1997) document has defined the main tasks to achieve this mission and the motive forces for change in the present phase.

The ANC National General Council in July 2000 emphasized the importance of building the capacity of its organizational formations in order to address the challenges facing our society. This is our society. This is encapsulated in the slogan: ANC agent for change and vanguard movement for fundamental social transformation.

The central question facing the 21st Congress is therefore, whether the ANC Youth League, one of the most important organizational formations of the ANC, has been successful in carrying out the responsibilities entrusted to it.

What are these responsibilities

They are as follows:

  • That we mobilize youth behind the vision of ANC.
  • That we unite and lead young people in confronting and dealing with the problems that face them.
  • That we effectively champion the interest of youth in the ANC and in society.
  • That we contribute to the organizational vibrancy and youthful political debate in the ANC and society.
  • That we provide a bridge between the present generation, of youth and older generations in the movement.
  • That we are a preparatory school for new leaders and cadres of the ANC.

We cannot, meet any of these expectations adequately, without reflecting on the last decade and the character and context of the present generation of youth.

Youth politics in the 90s

The ANC Youth League has - since its inception in 1943 - positioned itself as a political movement of youth. It has fought for itsth. It has fought for its right to exist and its autonomy within the structures of the ANC; based on the conviction that young people`s appreciation of democratic ideals is better consolidated if validated by their independent experience in struggle.

Our country`s history is incomplete without mention of the special place occupied by the youth through their organized formations during various phases of our struggle.

Over the past five decades: The Youth Leaguers of the 40s and 50s played a pivotal role in revolutionizing the ANC, resulting in the Defiance Campaign. The youth of Umkhonto we Sizwe were prepared to take up arms in pursuit of freedom and many like Solomon Mahlangu who paid the ultimate price. At the same time, the ANC Youth Section made an important contribution towards mobilizing international solidarity against the apartheid regime by conscientising international youth and students to the anti-apartheid movement.

Within the country, the students and youth of the 70s and 80s, through their organized formations such as SASO, SASM, COSAS, AZASO/SANSCO, NUSAS and SAYCO, ensured the intensification of mass resistance, which made apartheid unworkable.

The question that should be asked now is: what contribution has the youth of the 90s made, as our country emerged from apartheid and in its transition towards a democratic South Africa? How does this contribution, measure up against the impressive array of smpressive array of successive youth generations who took up the challenge to fight for their freedom, their people and their country?

And how did we get to a situation that, by the end of the 90s the youth? known at the beginning of the decade as the young lions of the struggle - were now variously referred to as the ?Boom Shaka?, ? Yizo Yizo? generation, the ?Born frees or spoken of in relation to apathy disinterest in politics, HIV prevalence, crime, consumerism and poor examination results?

This situation is a result of a range of different objective and subjective factors and a consequence of how the youth movement (including the ANC Youth League) evolved during the 1990s.

1990-1994: Key features of this period included the mobilization of youth organizations in support of the negotiation process.

(However, unlike the women`s movement, the youth wethe youth were not part of the formal negotiation structures). The period also saw the emergence of a vibrant youth development sector, united under the banner of the NYDCC and the NYDF, aimed at the profile of youth issues and addressing youth marginalization.

As the negotiations started at the beginning of the 90s ?leadership of the (struggle) shifted from the young lions to the old guard. The youth took a back seat?, observed the late cadre Parks Mankahlana, then Publicity Secretary of the ANCYL and our representative on the ANC Negotiations Commission.1 For example, the Youth League contribution to the negotiation process was, mainly, to receive briefings from the leadership and to explain the positions taken by the movement to young people.

With youth, especially in KwaZulu/Natal and Gauteng, at the receiving end of the Third-force violence orchestrated by the De Klerk regime as part of its negotiating strategy, the Youth League spearheaded the call and programme to form SDUs. And as part of a political strategy in KZN it committed human and material resources to successfully rebuild its structures in the provinces.

The League started, as early as 1992, to engage the then South African Police with a view towards winning over young people from within the enemy ranks. One of the consequences of this engagement was the formation of POPCRU and the first conferen the first conference on Community Policing organised by the League in Gauteng in 1993.

The Youth League was also instrumental in implementing the mass action campaigns around the release of political prisoners, the campaign to end Bantustan rule in Bophuphatswana and strengthening the hand of the ANC at the negotiating table. And on 27 April 1994, young people joined the long queues to vote for freedom and for the ANC.

1994-96: The advent of democracy in 1994 resulted in a shift in political activity, from an extra-parliamentary, mass liberation movement towards governing and contesting various other centres of power in our society. Mass mobilisation as we knew it changed ? often both in form and content.

This qualitative shift changed the terrain for the youth sector. Former ANCYL President Peter Mokaba - in handing over the reigns at the 18th Congress of the League in January 1994 - urged the incoming leadership to ensure that the League ?adapt to these changes or die?.

As was the case during the negotiations, the League had to position itself in a manner that took into account the fragile nature of the transition (hence the tongue lashing it got because of its position on the Springbok in 1995!). The League had to ensure that the youth understood the constraints of the negotiated settlement.

At the same time the League had to fight an uphill battle within the ANC to get yon the ANC to get youth issues taken seriously. For example, South Africa is amongst the very few countries in the world that did not introduce a major national programme for its youth upon the attainment of freedom or when faced with a major reconstruction challenge.

The RDP ? which became the programme of the newly elected GNU -noted in its Introduction chapter that ?special attention must be paid to the youth? and committed the movement to a National Youth Service programme. However, despite the fact that the YL had managed to lobby for a number of young MPs to be elected into Parliament and provincial legislatures in 1994,2 none of the Presidential Lead Projects specifically focussed on youth.

Instead, youth were identified as amongst a range of ?target groups? and thus catered for in wider programmes aimed at addressing poverty and underdevelopment. The youth-specific programmes during this period included the efforts to reform the youth justice system, ensuring that youth benefits from the media diversity programmes (hence Yfm), programmes to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and the deracialising of sports. Young people were also the main beneficiaries of the programme to transform education, improve infrastructure of disadvantage schools and improving access to higher education through the National Students Financial Aid System.

This period that saw the collapse of the NYDF and the Natie NYDF and the National Youth Service Initiative, which it piloted, giving another serious blow to the confidence of the youth sector. The membership and levels of activity of most youth and student organizations at this point were also declining. Large numbers of the youth movement`s most experienced activists and leaders left, because they were no longer youth or to take up other responsibilities brought about by the new situation.

Much of the Youth League`s energies during this period were therefore focused on improving and sharpening its policy, lobbying and advocacy capacity to meet the challenge of governance. The League BEC, E Cape and W Cape ? regions are increasingly inward-looking.

This was coupled with serious stagnation of its structures in Gauteng that in the history of the youth movement, have always spearheaded its rejuvenation. All these factors resulted in a weakening of the League`s organizational capacity3 and its influence in the youth sector. At this stage most young people were outside traditional forms of youth and student organizations.

1997-2000: The National Youth Commission (NYC) was only established in June 1996, after painstaking lobbying by the ANCYL of the Presidency and nearly every ANC minister in the GNU. Provinces like the N Cape, Free state, Mpumalanga had established Provincial Youth Commissions much earlier.

The NYC was established wit was established with maximum consensus (except for the DP Youth) in the youth movement. Learning from our peers in other countries, we deliberately did not choose a youth ministry for fear that it would marginalise youth issues into a single ministry.

Instead, we opted for Youth machinery4 that included a National Youth Commission, located in the Office of the President and with ?wide-ranging legislative powers?5. Its location was to enable it to fulfill its mandate of raising the profile of youth issues in government, provide for inter-departmental co-ordination and developing an over-arching Youth Policy for all tiers and departments of government.

In a statement announcing the formation of this committee in September 1997, the NYC indicates its brief as:

  • Providing a co-ordinated framework and facilitate co-operation for all youth programmes and services of government; and
  • Monitoring across departments the impact of government programs for young people.?

The NYC completed a consultative process, which resulted in the adoption of National Youth Policy by Government in 1998. Since, 1997, it has convened an Interdepartmental Committee on Youth Affairs.

A review of government`s youth programmes up to October 19996 suggests that that there is much more programmatic commitment to youmatic commitment to youth development in different government departments since the establishment of the NYC (and the various provincial commissions),

Furthermore, the general programmes of government around human resource development, meeting basic needs, job creation and economic growth and safety and security provide great possibilities for an enabling environment for youth development.

However, the varied range of youth programmes and services provided by different departments, reach fairly small numbers of youth (less than a thousand, in many cases). The exceptions are those programmes that are part of the core business of departments like in Education and Labour.

Except for these two departments, programmes of other departments are either at pilot stage, outsource to NGOs or seen as add-on projects to the main business of the department. In other large-scale povege-scale poverty alleviation programmes, the percentages of youth that benefited from these programmes are much lower than would be expected, given that they make up the highest proportion of the unemployed7.

The Youth machinery further envisaged a civil society co-ordinating structure in the form of a Youth Council; a portfolio committee on youth in the legislatures and youth development units at local government level.

The civil society-based South African Youth Council, established after the collapse of the NYDCC and the NYDF in 1997, ran into capacity problems from the start. With most youth organizations struggling to maintain their own structures, they often did not commit their most experienced youth activists to lead the SAYC. It therefore does not enjoy the kind of stature nor is it able to service the youth sector in the manner expected of a national youth council.

The confusion, often in the minds of youth activists and practitioners themselves, about the separate and complementary roles of the National Youth Commission and the South African Youth Council, also didn`t help matters. Despite this, amongst the most important contributions of the SAYC, acting with the NYC, was ensuring that the vision and programmes of the youth sector was carried in the final agreements of the Job Summit in 1998.

Youth NGOs during this period started networking separately from mass,parately from mass, political and membership based youth organizations ? around the issues of best practice in the sector and securing their financial survival. They eventually found a home in SANGOCO and operate within it as a sector.

The diverse and vibrant youth sector which at the beginning of the 90?s numbered close to 16 000 organizations, groups and projects, was but a former shadow of itself by the end of the decade.

The ANC Youth League in the 90s - adapt or die

The last two National Congresses of the League (in 1996 and 1998) were aware of the seriousness of the situation. Both these Congresses introduced a range of measures to try to arrest the situation, resulting in a slight improvement in the positioning of youth issues.

The measures included further strengthening our policy and advocacy capacity with the establishment of an Economic Development Commission in 1998. The Commission`s aim is to improve economic literacy amongst our members and ensure that the issues of young people are catered for in the economic and job creation policies of the country8.

More effective measures were also introduced to co-ordinate youth development strategy by engaging the NYC and Youth MPs. Since the start of the second democratic term, we have won the battle for a parliamentary portfolio committee on youth in 1999 (though linked with children andd with children and disabled).

The National Youth Service programme is at least at Green Paper stage with some projects being piloted, albeit from the surplus funding of a few departments. Cabinet agreed to allocate the proceeds from the demutualisation of Old Mutual and Sanlam exclusively to youth programmes, hence the establishment of the Umsobomvu Fund.

The League at its Congresses realised that we stand the danger of loosing touch with our constituency. We resolved to strengthen our branches by taking up mass campaigns around social issues facing the youth and by actively supporting branch work. We introduced a 40% quota for young women in our structures and embarked on a cadre development programme. And we continued to celebrate June 16, Youth day by reflecting on the past and present, and using the new cultural icons of the youth to attract them to our rallies.

The League also developed a more focused strategy around campus branches and started a national campaign to contest SRC elections on a common platform with SASCO and other progressive youth allies. The 1998 Congress saw for the first time during the 90s, the incorporation of significant sectors of the student movement into the leadership of the League.

In addition to efforts in the SAYC to unite youth on a common platform of development, the League also work to strengthen its relations with its progressive youth allies in a more structured form,ore structured form, through the Progressive Youth Alliance. Its political programmes of nation-building saw it reaching out to Afrikaner youth organizations and engaging with the IFP Youth Brigade towards involving the youth in building lasting peace and development in KZN.

Youth and politics in the 21st century

However, the rude awakening of the low registration levels (48% compared with 80% amongst the general voting population) and voting levels (43% compared to 89% of registered voters) of 18-20 year olds during the 1999 general elections shows that these measurers fell short of making a decisive impact. Though an age breakdown for voting in the 2000 local elections is not yet available, this pattern for this age group (18 ? 20 year olds) continued.

However, it is important to note that low registration and voting levels are not problems for all sections of the youth: 77% of the 20-30 year age group registered for the 1999 general elections.

Why then was there such a drastic drop in figures between the elections in 1994 and 1995 (when high levels of voting were recorded within the 18 ? 20 age group) and 1999 and 2000? The following reasons have been given as explanation for these remarkable phenomena:9

  • In general, 17-20 year olds are less likely to acquire ID books than older citizens. The need to acquire an ID acteo acquire an ID acted as a disincentive to registration, making the process more time consuming and expensive. In 1994, there was no requirement to register.
  • It has been argued that there is a lack of information and understanding of the elections process and governance institutions amongst the youth. Not nearly as much voter education was done as in 1994 and 1995 when the majority of voters were first time voters. We now seem to assume that (young) first time voters will somehow get to know why and how they should vote.
  • Voters aged 18-20 years in the 1999 elections were born after 1976, with little memory of the birth of the UDF and still in primary school at the birth of SAYCO in 1987. They were between 9 and 11 years old when cde Mandela was released. This points to the need for society, and the education system in particular, to ensure that this new generation know the history of the country and its struggle for freedom and democracy.
  • Attitudes of older people (even older youth) towards this younger generation and their cultural identity and issues are also a contributing factor. This includes the censorious reference to them as ?born-frees.? And when older people ask ?what has happened to the youth?? they mean ?why aren`t they like we were?? This is most eloquently reflected today in the prevailing attitudes towards kwattitudes towards kwaito.

But, are the registration and voting figures really an indication that today`s young people are not politically conscious or interested? Are ?black youth (as) unpolitical and extremely materialistic,? as stated by a Yfm director? Some of the recent research (HSRC and CASE)10 done around political attitudes of youth seems to suggest otherwise.

The research shows that although only one in ten of young people belong to a political movement, they are politically aware and engaged. Four in ten have seen a copy of the SA Constitution and 57% have heard about the Bill of Rights. They are less negative about the performance of political institutions than older people.

On the key issue of race relations and national unity, youth again showed more optimism than their elders did; two thirds (67%) of yds (67%) of youth agreed that although it will take time, South Africa will become a united nation. And, asked about the quality of life, the economy, education, crime and health care, they responded significantly more positive than older respondents and expect improvements in all these areas in the next five years.

The tag of an ?apolitical youth? also does not take into account the broader social activism of young people in the movements against HIV/AIDS or against women and child abuse. Nor do they take into account the fact that in opinion polls young people generally hold more progressive views than older people do on matters such as abortion, the death penalty, etc. Or how does one explain the complaint by ANC leaders about youth dominating ANC branches?

Youth cultural and identity

Youth as social strata is capable of assimilating ideas of different classes, strata and political groupings in society. And, although they assimilate ideas of the society in which they live, this is generally articulated as distinct from those of children and the older generations in the society, hence the phenomena of ?youth culture and sub-cultures?.

It should, however, be remembered that many youth sub-cultures are potentially progressive because young people are more idealistic. For example, the black consciousness movement drew inspiration from African American sub-cultures.

Youth culture finds expression around issues of identity, music, fashion, language, and engagement with institutions of society, involvement in-group activities of their age mates and relying on the standards of their peers.

In a globalising world, ideas and ?global culture? transmitted by the print media, advertising, music, television, the Internet, radio contest this terrain with other traditional socialising institutions such as the family, school, political parties, trade unions, the community, etc. Hence the complaint that ?our children are acting like Americans and don`t know their culture.?

(Again, it should be remembered that the Youth League`s golden age during the 1950s occurred at a time when American gangsters heavily influenced township life and urban youth sub-cultures in places like Sophiatown.)

Amongst the challenges facing us therefore is for the League to root itself amongst the youth, wherever they are and seek to engage with youth cultures, advocate for its support and in the process win support for a national identity that is African, non-racial, non-sexist and patriotic and caring.

Where are the youth, what are their issues and how are they organised?

The League seeks to organise, mobilise and lead young men and women between the ages of 14 - 35 years. This constituency, according to the 1996 census makes up 39.8% of Soutes up 39.8% of South Africans, numbering 16 million people. Where are they, what are their issues and how are they organised?

Most of 14-18 year olds are found in the 16 000-odd secondary (public and private) schools and in further education institutions.

Unlike at the beginning of the 90?s when 300 000 young people dropped out of school every year, increasingly the majority of the youth of today are and remain in school till matric. The deracialisation of education has resulted in large numbers of black students attending formerly white or Model C schools.

On the whole, these schools do not cater for the interests and culture of black students. This is reflected in teacher profiles, the composition of school governing bodies, language and recreation policies - hence the outbreaks at schools like Vryburg and Crawford.

Despite the introduction of redistributive instruments such as the new funding formula and teacher redeployment, township schools remain poorly equipped in terms of human and material resources, impacting on the quality of education. The continued racial disparities in education are reflected in our matric pass rate of 57%, the majority without university exemption.

Learners in rural areas remain amongst the most disadvantaged, with seriously overcrowded classrooms. Pencils, paper, even desks are often a luxury and so are electricity, toilets and even water. Attempts by the Educatimpts by the Education department to bring farm schools into the mainstream have largely been frustrated by non-cooperation from many white farmers.

As a result, studies show that 14-15 year old rural learners have an average reading age of seven. Even if they make it to secondary school, they have little chance of coping with textbooks written for a reading age of 16. Many drop out.11

Despite statutory provisions for SRCs at schools and for learner participation on School Governing Bodies, student organisation at this level is very weak and COSAS is but a shell of its former self.

With completion rates much higher than before, and in the absence of leadership development programmes, SRC?s (and COSAS in particular) do not play an effective role in organising and concienctising learners and are often seen as a disruptive force by the department, teacher and parents.

There are emerging single-issue movements at schools, focusing on issues such as HIV/AIDS, peer counseling, anti drugs and crime programmes and environmental issues. However, these tend to be school-based and - except for the HIV/AIDS movement - do not (yet) constitute social movements amongst youth of any significance.

Those amongst this age group who are not in school are in correctional facilities or places of safety, teenage mothers at home, on the farms and in the rural areas, in urban gangs, street urban gangs, street children, kept at home because they are disabled or AIDS orphans looking after younger siblings.

These groups tend to have an insignificant voice in the mainstream youth organizations, with a few exceptions. The Disabled People`s Organization over the last few years has played an important role in raising the profile of issues of young people with disabilities and actively lobbies the NYC and other structures.

The ANCYL has maintained a presence through its branches in most rural areas, although it has experienced a significant decline in branches in the N Province and E Cape over the last three years. The League is in the process of developing a youth input to the Integrated Rural Development Strategy. (As a general rule, rural issues have never been very high on the League`s agenda.)

The League has been an active part of the lobby for the reform of the juvenile justice system. There are a number of youth NGO?s working on diversion programmes and with young people in prisons. The NYC and the League also have programmes in prisons on Youth Day. Most youth organizations see themselves as part of the campaign against crime and endeavour to play a positive role in Community Policing Forums.

The 18-26 year olds are more diversely spread:

The majority of them join the ranks of the unemployed or the informal (often subsistence) sector. The formal economy still absorbs a very small bsorbs a very small percentage of new entrants into the job market. The majority of people who have never been employed (estimated at 69.2% of the unemployed) are young people. Yet, they are not catered for by the social security system.

African youth, youth with disabilities and young women have a disproportionate share of the youth unemployment burden. And the more rural a province is, the higher the rate of youth unemployment, as is evident in the figures for Northern Province, E Cape and Mpumalanga (more than 50%). 12

Some amongst the unemployed have opted for crime and gangs, with this age cohort comprising the highest percentage of people in the criminal justice system.

Over half a million of this age group are in institutions of higher learning ? technikons, universities and colleges. The problems they face include the disparitiee disparities of human and material resources between HBU?s and HWIs, access to finance, academic support and high dropout levels, etc.

Last, but not least amongst this age group are the working youth. Starting at the bottom, they are often the first out when it comes to job cuts. Together with women, they comprise the majority of casual workers. They also form a significant percentage of the working poor (employed people who live below the poverty line).

Levels of unionisation amongst this sector of the youth have decreased over the last few years (Mahoney. 1999). Initiatives by the Youth League to engage COSATU in joint programmes towards the organisation of young workers have not taken off.

The working youth also include those in the professions ? holding positions in the private and public sector. They, more than any amongst their peers have benefited from the opportunities provided by freedom from racial and gender discrimination, affirmative action, employment equity policies and the reduction of the Apartheid wage gap in the public sector.

Yet they too find themselves in institutions that simply expect them to adapt to the prevailing organisational culture, which still is largely racist, sexist and ageist.

These young professionals form an important part of the public sector unions ? as teachers, nurses. They also form a significant section of the newly integrated security forces (defenecurity forces (defense, intelligence, and the police).

In the professional associations, they are often discriminated against because of their age, lack of experience or not being in positions of power in their companies. However, they are a more confident generation than the older (blacks and women) in the professions:-they do not have to face the same odds in a formal sense and often have the benefit of so-called hard skills. This, unfortunately, is mainly true of the young graduates from the HWIs.

The discrimination faced by those from the HBIs from the time that they apply for jobs, means that they must work much harder to proof themselves and often get overlooked for promotion simply based on where they got their degree.

Sandwiched between your ?kwaito generation? and the mature Black consciousness and exile tradition, are the 27-35 year old age cohort. Increasingly - in their outlook and position they are assuming more of the responsibilities of adulthood in society ? and thus gravitates towards the older generations in outlook, though they do relate to the younger generation.

They are the generation most affected by the crisis of Apartheid of the late 70?s and 80?s, and the target of most of our policies to eliminate poverty and provide basic services. This age group were part of the youth and student struggles of the 1980?s, have memories of June 16, they lived through the negotiations anhe negotiations and through the transition.

The middle strata amongst this group have benefited significantly from access to advancement in the work place, in the public sector and through opportunities for economic empowerment.

They increasingly form an important and vocal component of opinion and decision makers in a range of sectors of our society ? the media, public service, the private sector, the labour movement, etc. These activists of yesteryear generally are passionate about politics and follow events in the country, even though they may not be actively involved in political organisation.

Increasingly in the private sector, this group have more hard skills, than the founding fathers (and few mothers) of the affirmative action and black empowerment movements.

However, this is a small, though significant sector of this generation. What has happened to the youth unemployed and school dropouts of the 80?s and early 90?s ? the so-called ?lost generation or marginalised youth?? They like their middle class peers are taking on adult responsibilities and are increasingly treated as such.

This group formed the bulk of the beneficiaries? anti-poverty and RDP programmes of the last seven years - the Community based and other public works and SMME programmes; the poverty alleviation programmes. They still form a large portion of the unemployed.


Fanon said that each generation defines its mission, which it must either fulfill or betray.

What then is the mission of this generation? This mission, as with previous generations, derives from the primary contradiction, which our society seeks to resolve.

The context in which generations before us defined their mission dictated them to be part of the broad movement to bring an end to white minority rule.

The present generation will fulfill or betray its mission in the struggle to transform South Africa into a truly democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous society. This will require of us to mobilise and organise young men and women towards the struggle to:

  • Deracialise and build non-racialism in all elements of human activity;
  • End sexism and the second class position of women, towards real gender equality;
  • A sustained campaign against poverty; continuously improving the standards of living of all our people;
  • deracialise and transform the economy into a modern and dynamic economy as key part of building a prosperous society;
  • Entrench and deepen democracy and building an equalitarian and caring society, sensitive to the needs of the most vulnerable;
  • Working for the peace, reconstruction, democracy and develop, democracy and development of the African continent; and
  • Act together with other progressive forces and countries in the world to ensure a more equitable and just world order.

Granted, these things, to any of today`s youth will be rather abstract and on the surface not much to do with their aspirations, concerns or life styles. This is exactly why we need a political movement of young people to relate the broad vision of our society to the aspirations and concerns of its peers.

The ANC Youth League ? its subjective weaknesses notwithstanding ? is still the only mass political movement of young people with the capacity and potential to rise to this challenge.

This is because of its unique position as the youth wing of the ANC (which still enjoys overwhelming support amongst today`s youth), its organisational infrastructure (it is amongst the few truly national youth movements), its track record in the youth movement and the fact that it has managed , albeit to a much lesser degree than before to attract the young generation ( the average age of the mass of the League`s membership over the last decade has been constant at between 18-20 years).

However, the ANC Youth League cannot and should not act on its own. In order to rise to the challenge of uniting, conscientising and organising this generation around its mission, it will must act with others.

How then should we go How then should we go about doing this and what are the immediate challenges facing the League?

Translating the vision so that it becomes part of the very fabric of South African youth culture will require creative positioning by the League.

Firstly, what is the key concern of young men and women today ? irrespective of social position? It is access. Access to university, technikon or further training, the job market, the professions, the arts and cultural sectors, to land, the professional sports leagues, to finance, markets and opportunities to start their own businesses.

Secondly, what are the things that prevent them from entrance to these institutions and the possibilities for them to participate and contribute to society as productive citizens?

Sadly, these things are not much different now than a decade ago. They are:-

  • An economy that stionomy that still does not grow fast enough to absorb new entrants into the labour market;
  • An education and training system that still do not provide the majority of young people with adequate skills and access to higher training to become productive citizens;
  • Racism in the professions and a private sector that still strive towards full employment for young white men (and some women), and grudgingly let in a few blacks men (and even fewer women) forced by employment equity and affirmative action policies13;
  • Dysfunctional families and communities who fall short of teaching (let alone be role models) the values and life skills that will enable young people to make informed choices. Small wonder that they are only talked about as HIV sufferers, rapists and rape victims, car highjackers, prisoners, consumers, teenage parents, etc.

The League needs to position itself in such a manner that in its programme and organisational profile, it is seen to be leading the youth sector as a whole in addressing these issues. And, it must do this in a manner that finds resonance with the generation of today, whilst building the power and influence of the youth sector in our society.

This will require the following:-

  1. Political positioning to find resonance with today`s generation

    1.1. Projecting a more youthful image: The League`s profile and activities must be relevant to young people and its messages transmitted through the mediums that young people identify with (popular culture, the media, etc). Its must strive to get its slogans ? whether on youth service, fighting racism or voting ? accepted as part of popular youth culture. This will amongst other things require that it revolutionize its media and communication strategy ? and actively engage in and with popular youth culture in all its manifestations and at all levels.

    1.2. Lobby and mobilize for a national youth service programme: The situation of this generation requires a concerted national effort that will improve skills levels, give work experience, whilst at the same time allowing young people to serve their communities and to gain life experience.

    The national youth service programme must be conceptualized in a more creative manner ? and not merely as an endeavour by the state. It must include service projects as envisaged and piloted in the Green Paper, learnership programmes, increased access to further and higher education service by graduates, the promotion of science, mathematics and technology and must be flexible to accommodate service projects by volunteers from churches, business, welfare organisations, NGOs and so forth.

    The national youth service mnal youth service must send a message to South African youth that this society cares about its youth and is prepared to invest in them as a sine qua non for building a prosperous society.

    The League will firstly have to build support within the youth sector for this concept, it must win popular support amongst young people and use its position in the ANC and the muscle of youth mobilisation to ensure that this programme becomes a reality.

    It should not allow itself to be distracted by those who will argue about resources or capacity to implement such a programme ? there are many international examples of successful mass programmes targetting the youth and we must not be prepared to take risks.

    1.3. Making politics youth-friendly: To break the sense of alienation from political institutions (though not necessarily politics), we must take up political programmes which speak to the youth.

    A national youth campaign against racism and sexism that educates young people about their rights or an annual civic education campaign that targets high school students and includes voter education are amongst the mass campaigns we should be taking up with the youth sector and bodies such as the National Youth Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the Commission for Gender Equality.

    The League should spearhead calls that will help nation building, such as for the , such as for the immediate introduction of at least one compulsory African language in all schools and have programmes, which encourage black and white youth to work together.

    We must also use our young MPs and MPLs more effectively to interact with young people and inform them about governance issues and their rights. The Youth parliaments around June 16 must become part of the life of our legislatures. We must ensure that they become more than just symbolic gestures, but indeed highlight the achievements and challenges facing the youth sector.

    Local government has a special role to play in facilitating the participation of young people in governance and development issues.

    1.4.A vocal champion of youth interests: The League, other youth organisations and the National Youth Commission must be vocal about the issues of young people. It must highlight the plight of vulnerable sections of young people living with HIV/AIDS, of teenage mothers who are kicked out of school, of street children and children in prison and so forth.

    It must take up innovative and exciting social campaigns around issues such as HIV/AIDS, the culture of learning at school, substance abuse, etc.

    It must act together with young people and their associations in the professions and business to engage financial institutions about their lending policies and engage government about youthvernment about youth quotas in their tender and procurement procedures. It must engage the private sector about job creation and removing barriers that exclude young people from entering the economy.

    It must act with youth in the arts and culture to advocate for access, resources and opportunities and for an enabling environment for the development of young artists, writers, musicians, etc. It must challenge the continued racist attitudes of advertisers, who despite high ratings, continue to shun black youth media. By engaging young people in such issues, they will begin to understand the imperative of transformation and the need for collective action.

    It must speak up if once again in the Budget and, no provision is made for a national youth service programme.

    It must make use of the National Youth Commission and young MPs to inform youth about the programmes and services in place for them and to challenge those departments who still treat youth development as a an add-on.

    1.5.Building the capacity of the youth sector: Most countries, because they recognise youth as the leaders of the futures, invest public resources in supporting voluntary youth activities and organisations. This is mostly done using the National Youth Council as a vehicle and with the same strict accounting and reporting requirements as with any other public funding.

    In addition, much m>In addition, much more attention should be paid to leadership development programmes amongst the youth ? ranging from training for SRC?s, peer councillors to support for accredited training programmes targeting youth practitioners.

    We must also advocate and mobilise for the adequate resourcing of youth NGOs and projects and for an enabling environment for such projects.

    1.6.Youth action for the African century: The League should carry out the tasks of the African century with similar innovation. We must raise awareness and knowledge amongst young people of African history and issues, through information, exchange, solidarity and twinning programmes with youth in other countries around issues of politics, development, culture and sports.

    Strengthening the youth movement on the continent will be important and we must be more upfront abouupfront about the need to rejuvenate the Pan African Youth Movement.

    At the same time, we must use our standing in the international youth movement to ensure that the voice of African youth is heard and that we mobilise the rest of the progressive youth movement towards working for a more just and equitable world order.

    Amongst the things that we must consider, given the large numbers of young South Africans studying (and increasingly working) overseas is to revive the Southern African Students Association, with a view to ensure that they continue to make a contribution to the society and act as ambassadors of South Africa wherever they find themselves.


    1.7. An autonomous programme: The League must be allowed to have a distinct programme and identity that is different from that of the motherbody. In conceptualizing and implementing such a programme leaders of the League and of the movement should not be afraid of the idealism, sense of adventure, rebelliousness and inexperience that are features of being young. In carrying out this programme, the League must be allowed make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes.

    Only then can it become truly an organisation of young people, an independent living organism, and geared towards and guiding youthful aspirations in ul aspirations in political, cultural, intellectual and other fields.

    1.8. Youth in the ANC: The League should continue to contribute towards the life of the ANC. However, if we have learnt anything from the last decade, it is that this contribution will be the poorer if not based on the platform of a solid mass youth movement.

    It is as a vibrant and energetic mass movement of young people, that we will become more effective in contributing towards organisational vibrancy and infusing young and fresh ideas into the political debates in the ANC.

    It is in the direct interest of the ANC for young people to be mobilised, organised and politicised. The League must enable the movement to interact with the new generation, learn about and from them and in the process replenish and rejuvenate the ANC.

    The primary responsibility of activists of the League over the next few years should therefore to be ensuring its rejuvenation. We should however not blame those young people who chose to work mainly in the motherbody, but support them and ensure that they too champion the interests of youth in the ANC.


    1.9. Youthful and vibrant branches: Our branches must reflect this new image and youthfulness we seek to engender in the League. They must be League. They must be in the forefront of the issues of young people in communities, taking up and engage local government and business around social and economic development campaigns, working with learners at schools, and towards building a vibrant and diverse youth sector.

    1.10. Attracting the best of youth in our society: We must strengthen our support for and expand campus branches of the League, and ensure that our members are active in the student movement. We should develop a programme for our branches, with the student movement and other progressive forces on campuses that will see acceleration in the transformation of higher education.

    The League must consciously seek to involve in its programmes, and where possible recruit as members and into its leadership structures, young intellectuals, cultural and media workers, artists, sports people, professionals and business people. It must galvanize these sectors to become more vocal in shaping, not only youth opinion, but also public opinion in our society. It must facilitate and provide forums for them to engage and interact with the leadership of the movement and the country on a regular basis.

    1.11. A truly modern youth movement: The League must be bold and make use of the advances in information and technology, and mobilise for the expansion of these services for all young people.

    There is no r>

    There is no reason why every township and village branch of the League shouldn`t be the initiators of internet caf?s, providing training in computers, access to the information highway, whilst at the same time raising funds for the branch.

    The League must also engage with new developments in marketing and public relations to be able to get its message across and reach out to youth. And it should utilize the hundreds of former youth activists in these sectors, to develop a body of young communicators, which in the end will also benefit the country and the movement.

    This will also require that we further sharpen our lobbying and advocacy capacity; making use of young people in the professions and students as a conscious part of our cadre development programmes. The Economic Development Commission of the YL needs to be an active and innovative centre of ideas and it should seek to engage the movement and society on those ideas.

    As the youth wing of the ruling party, our engagement with governance needs to be more sophisticated and aimed at achieving tangible changes in the profiling of youth issues in government (see paper on Youth and Governance).

    1.12. The new youth cadre: The type of repositioning will require a Youth League cadre that first of all understands the vision of the League and is rooted amongst young people. The League in its cadre development prodre development programme should therefore have leadership development programmes that cultivate social activism amongst its members, an in-depth understanding of the youth sector and of issues of youth development. It must be able to link this to its political training, for these cadres to understand their mission as youth leaders.

    It must encourage the thirst for knowledge and of reading and debate. It must discourage dogmatism and rethoric, and build a youth cadre that enthusiastically engages in debating the issues facing the nation ? on radio, in the papers, in community forums, in the ANC -projecting an image of a generation that not only is confident of being born free, but are taking up the responsibilities of building a new society.


    Coming of age in the life of any young person means getting new freedoms, but ultimately to be responsible for one`s own destiny. The Youth League of the ANC has a proud history of treating its freedoms with responsibility and carrying its responsibilities with commitment and single-mindedness.

    The 21st Congress of the ANC Youth League has much to live up to. Let us not fail the youth and the African century.


    1 Mail and Guardian. 1p> Mail and Guardian. 1 March 1993

    2 The ANCYL lobbied for youth to be included on the lists of the ANC and twelve were elected as Members of Parliament in 1994 and our former President, Peter Mokaba was appointed as a Deputy Minister and a number of other young MP?s served in the Whippery. THE ANC had at least one young MPL from the ranks of the League in each Provincial legislatures, with the exception of the Northwest province.

    3 With the exception of KZN and N Cape, as indicated by the Organisational Reports to the 19th National Congress (1996) and the 20th Congress in 1998.

    4 Resolutions of the 18th National Congress of the ANC Youth League, Vista University Soweto, January 1994

    5 President Nelson MandelNelson Mandela on the occasion of the announcement of the National Youth Commission, 16 June 1996.

    6 Guide to Government Youth programmes. 2nd Edition. Interdepartmental Committee on Youth Affairs. NYC. October 1999 and reviewed in Potgieter F. Accelerate Change. Youth Development in the next five years. Youth Development Journal. 2000

    7 For example, the Municipal Infrastructure Development programme with 2000 projects approved since 1994/95, provided 186 955 persons to month of employment and involved 1 965 black owned SMME?s. Yet, the programme had a 11% youth participation. In the Working for Water project, youth participation was slightly higher at 20% of total participants. Guide to Government Youth programmes. 2nd Edition October 1999

    8 The YL?s Economic Development Committee produced a Youth Employment strategy in 1998 and played an instrumental role in galvanising the youth sector in the South African Youth Council and NEDLAC to make an impact in the Presidential Job Summit that same year. It is in the process of making a similar input to the Integrated rural development strategy.

    9 ANC YL Annual reports of 1999 and 2000 and by YL NEC member Melissa Levine in a paper Opting out of organised politics: youth and the elections Developme elections Development Update. Vol. 3 no.2 (2000) and the HSRC Opinion poll 1999.

    10 Everatt. 2000

    11 It?s the pits: Why SA?s neglected rural schools need your help. Financial Mail. January 26.2001

    12 For more comprehensive figures and analysis of youth unemployment, see ?Investing in the future, getting young people working? An employment strategy for the ANC Youth League. July 1998

    13 Affirmative action ? Ithumeleng Mahabane in Financial Mail 1 February 2001