||Viewpoint by Pedro Mzileni
Youth Month: There’s Life after the 25th National ANCYL Congress
Recruitment towards the launching of branches is in session. These are interesting times to be part of the ANCYL to observe this process unfolding as an active member. This process is also coinciding with the first youth month after the 5th general elections of our 20 year old democracy from apartheid bondage. A month which government has declared under the theme: Youth Moving South Africa Forward!
I write this brief piece motivated by what was written by Comrade Zuko Godlimpi in the past recent weeks on Hlomelang where he said “towards the 25th National Congress: let's not falsify our organisational discourse”. I could not have disagreed with that statement. It is correct and I want to add on it by saying: actually, there is life after the 25th National Congress. In fact, the rebuilding process will start in the congress and continue afterwards. I am interested in the life of the ANCYL after the 25th National Congress and I will touch on it here briefly.
What is of primary interest to this organization we are trying to build is how can we make it effective and exciting to young people of today. Also, how can we make it a true embodiment of their genuine and deepest aspirations. In simple terms, the challenge facing us as a mass youth formation of the ANC is an obligation to be relevant in terms of the needs and interests of the youth - to communicate what we seek to achieve and how we seek to achieve it - to provide leadership in relation to the needs of young people and finally, to engage young people in a consistent struggle for the national democratic revolution. These questions remain relevant in our attempt and commitment to build a foundation for a strong youth formation.
Currently, the main challenges facing the youth of the country can be summarised as joblessness, poverty, HIV/AIDS, skewed access to school and university education, economic marginalization, crime, massive drug and alcohol abuse, lack of skills, physical and emotional abuse, teenage pregnancy, illiteracy, poor sports development, violence against homosexuals, lack of access to basic services and a strong offensive neo-liberal ideological attack in terrains of the battle of ideas with the social networks in the main. These challenges are obviously an embodiment of the legacy of the carefully planned apartheid state over 350 years that of which the ANCYL would be unconnected to young people today if it were to be silent on them.
Organizationally, the youth today can be found in political, cultural, student, youth, trade union, sport club and civil society organisations. Although the presence of youth in political youth formations has changed, youth politics is drastically changing since 1994. Most analysts have declared that young people are apathetic, however, this is not reflective of the many different activities that young people find expression in. Lately, young people have showed extreme and radical activism demanding basic services, jobs, access to education and also challenging various undemocratic government actions (as seen in the cross-boundary struggles). They go out in numbers to participate in the elections. They are not afraid to write about their views online. There is clearly a need to build a youth organisation that is welcoming, that allows young people to express themselves but also ensuring that we locate their needs and interests as immediate.
We have not as yet been able to attract in a massive way young white, Indian and ‘Coloured’ youth in our ranks. We have also not been able to ensure that there is a massive presence of young women especially in leadership positions. A clear analysis of the conditions of young people in these communities is needed. The reality is that most of the young people in these communities have more or less similar experiences, and thus, a generic youth formation should be able to respond by organizing them in their communities, starting campaigning branches that will attract and articulate their concerns and interests. Perhaps one of the blunders of the previous leadership of the ANCYL was the misguided populist racist rhetoric that was used publicly over extensive periods of time to ignite emotions of our youth from their concerns opportunistically. What is needed at this point in time is an invested effort to articulate the class content of race oppression and gender discrimination so that all youth can understand that the ANCYL is their home fighting for their liberation. What we must understand though, as the Strategy & Tactics of the ANC describes is that “among the classes and strata suing for change, there will be concentric circles or a hierarchy of involvement”.
Moving and inspiring young people into political action means that we should be an organisation enabling every young person to see that it consists of people whose teachings they perhaps may not understand and immediately believe, but from whose practical work and activity they can see that they are really people who are showing them the right road. The political style and content of the organization must also breathe fresh air into organisational building, political language, political education and cadreship development. We must excite, innovate, create and inspire young people. We must be an active, exciting and campaigning organisation. We must be dynamic, appealing, fashionable, innovative, pluralistic, tolerant, diverse, radical and autonomous!
The membership of the ANCYL is open to young people between the ages 14-35. People between the ages 14-35 are too different amongst each other even those who come from the same class and strata. I saw this in the recruitment drive in my branch. As the ANCYL we should be able to segment certain age categories within our membership. Such segmentation can only enhance and focus interventions in addressing particular issues and concerns related to different age groups. I will make an example with the drafting of our branch POA recently. Those between ages 14-19 want local house DJ tournaments and beauty pageants, those between 20-24 want career expos and university scholarships, those between 25-35 want memorial lectures, family planning classes, employment promotion imbizo’s etc.
What you also encounter is a situation whereby a 30-year old YCL leader who has experience of being in SASCO, the ANC, SACP, etc. could have the effect of intimidating a 17-year-old matriculant interested to join the ANCYL. The question then is, how do we use the experience of this YCL leader so as to educate and excite the young matriculant about the ANCYL and what it stands for? There are obviously issues relating to whether we should reduce the age of qualifying for membership in the ANCYL. All of these balanced with the fact that youth in our country is defined as young people between age 14 - 35 on the one hand, thus seeking to balance our organizational focus and activism within the realm of civil society and other spheres. On the other hand, there is a need to balance the needs and interests of the entire membership of the ANCYL across all age segments. Part of the scenarios that we could adopt is to ensure that there is clear representivity of all age segments within the leadership and membership of the ANCYL, including targeted recruitment in parallel with the building of COSAS.
25th National Congress
This congress must produce a campaigning organization that I have articulated above extensively. The road towards this Congress has been fueled by organizational debates more than political debates. The mania has been on how can we achieve organizational stability and cohesion. This is expected since the reason why we are here in the first place is because of an organizational interruption that took place which was necessary.
Politically, comrade Godlimpi nailed it on Hlomelang last week when he said “it would be a blunder on our part to present the expulsion of some leading figures at the time of the adoption of that clarion call as well as the ultimate disbandment of the then NEC to mean that the strategic perspectives of the 24th National Congress were themselves withered away”. He went further to say “as an existential fact, the ANCYL's primary relevance is determined by the extent to which it can be an institutional source of political and ideological renewal within the ANC; sustaining a radical trend of strategic interventions on the part of the movement consistent with the objective demands of each emergent historical epoch. It is charged with the function of always seeking to understand the most decisive social contradictions of each period in history and to radicalize the ANC's approach in dealing with those questions. In large measure, the 24th National Congress achieved this function and none of us can work to reverse this progress and still claim to be revolutionary”. I couldn’t have put it any better.
This organizational debate has also been characterized by a massive Facebook campaign on who must lead the ANCYL. Lists and photoshop are exchanged daily right in front of our eyes. What we know in times like these is that leadership issues tend to become a preoccupation for those whose interest is merely to ascend to leadership positions with scant regard for the programmatic work of the organization. We have consistently articulated our perspective in relation to leadership issues in the ANC, and such perspectives are no different from how we want to see the leadership issue being addressed in the ANCYL.
While majority of us will enter Congress as branch delegates from the ground level, it remains our interest to ensure that we give the baton to the new breed of leadership, those we are sure that they understand the imperatives and obligations that come with the leadership role. They must appreciate that the challenge to ensure that the ANCYL remains relevant and responsive to its twin tasks of mobilizing young people behind the vision of the ANC and champion youth issues remain central in their work. They must understand that they assume custody of the legacy of great giants of our revolution, gallant revolutionaries and fearless freedom fighters who laid down their lives so we could free.
We remain convinced that Congress will elect a calibre of leadership that is up to the task of taking the ANCYL to new height and inculcate a culture of political activism among our youth. It must never elude us that the task of nominating and electing individuals into leadership roles remains the exclusive role of the branches. Notwithstanding our individual sentiments and preferences, we must respect this process and abide by its outcomes at all times.
All structures of our organisation must engage robustly on the matter. It must be appreciated that the forthcoming Congress is a congress of the entire membership of the ANCYL and will serve as a point of celebration and rededication to the ideals the ANCYL has embodied in its entire history. The ANCYL will jealously defend its character, ethos, values and unity and will not allow anything negative to threaten its unity and cohesion.
OBSESSION WITH PRESIDENCY
The previous leadership of the ANCYL was guilty of building a superman possessing supernatural characteristics akin to those of a God and graduating him to be all mighty powerful even beyond the organization. An attribute of individualism that the congress movement always frown upon. We already see even now that there are trends already suggesting that we should have “someone similar to fill in those shoes” as if there was something revolutionary about individualistic leadership. For this matter I want to refer to a short story of Stalin by Lenin.
In his December 1922 letter to the Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Lenin said: “After taking over the position of Secretary General, Comrade Stalin accumulated in his hands immeasurable power and I am not certain whether he will always be able to use this power with the required care”. Lenin was worried that: “Stalin was excessively rude, and this defect, which can be tolerated in our midst and in contacts among us Communists, becomes a defect which cannot be tolerated in one holding a position of the Secretary-General. Because of this I propose that the comrades consider the method by which Stalin would be removed from this position and by which another man would be selected for it, a man who, above all, would differ from Stalin in only one quality, namely, greater tolerance, greater loyalty, greater kindness and more considerate attitude towards the comrades, a less capricious temper, etc.”
It is not that this sharp rebuke was confined only to Stalin. Here Lenin seems to be concerned about two things regarding Stalin. Firstly, no sooner had he become the Secretary General than he accumulated in his hands immeasurable power, and, second, he had an excessively rude and intolerant attitude which was not fitting for a comrade who held such a high position of Secretary General. We all know what happened in the Soviet Union under Stalin’s reign of terror. No debate was allowed even inside the Party and there was a cult of the personality which destroyed both the Party and the USSR itself.
At the 20th Congress of the Party on 25 February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev, then General Secretary of the Party after Stalin, said of the cult of the personality, that: “After Stalin’s death the Central Committee of the party began to implement a policy of explaining concisely and consistently that it is impermissible and foreign to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism to
elevate one person, to transform him into a superman possessing supernatural characteristics akin to those of a god. Such a man supposedly knows everything, sees everything, thinks for everyone, can do anything, is infallible in his behavior. Such a belief about a man, and specifically about Stalin, was cultivated among us for many years…”
Later, he said: “Comrades! We must abolish the cult of the individual decisively, once and for all; we must draw the proper conclusions concerning both ideological-theoretical and practical work”.
This is the opportunity we are offered by the 25th National Congress of the ANCYL: to abolish the cult of the individual once and for all and elect leaders who will have greater tolerance, greater loyalty, greater kindness and more considerate attitude towards the comrades (including in the tripartite alliance) and a less capricious temper.
The powers that the President of the ANCYL has must be clamped and measured and never again must we give an individual, no matter how much we trust them at any given stage, or how intelligent they are, so much power as would turn them into a “superman possessing supernatural characteristics akin to those of a God.”
The organization must reposition itself in the public dialogue about the question on economic transformation. It must raise sensitive issues about the exchange of property relations and the participation of the working-class majority in the economy - not in a populist demagogic modus but in an intellectual and ideological term. A popular slogan, be it ‘economic freedom in our lifetime’ or not, must be crafted as a mobilizing tool for our youth.
We must excite, innovate, create and inspire young people. We must be an active, exciting and campaigning organisation. We must be dynamic, appealing, fashionable, innovative, pluralistic, tolerant, diverse, radical and autonomous! We must be found to be at the forefront of challenges such as joblessness, poverty, HIV/AIDS, skewed access to school and university education, economic marginalization, crime, massive drug and alcohol abuse, lack of skills, physical and emotional abuse, teenage pregnancy, illiteracy, poor sports development, violence against homosexuals, lack of access to basic services and a strong offensive neo-liberal ideological attack in terrains of the battle of ideas with the social networks in the main.
The real objective of the ANCYL is obviously to push for the ANC to practically implement what it is calling the radical phase of economic transformation. Ultimately, the ANCYL will only rest when the ANC adopts the overall programme of economic freedom in our lifetime and the radical policy specifications attached to it. It is our duty as an institutional source of political and ideological renewal within the ANC to influence the ANC and society. Our guiding programme shall remain being the Freedom Charter.
(Pedro Mzileni is in the Branch Political Education Sub-Committee of the ANCYL Khaya Mabece Branch, Ward-41, Buffalo City Region, Eastern Cape. He writes this on his personal capacity.)