In his 1944 article entitled, “Congress Youth League and Future Plans” published in Umteteli wa Bantu, Anton Lembede said:
“We are drawing up plans and laying foundations for a longer future than we can imagine.”
Preoccupation with the questions of the future - what it will be, how it shall be achieved and the social forces that must be mobilised and harnessed in its pursuit - places the youth at the very centre of every nation’s endeavours.
In essence, what this means is that for their sustenance and the perpetuation of their ideas and value systems, every class or social stratum, indeed, every society, must deliberately and consciously invest in the youth as the rising generation. After all, no revolution can be victorious without the effective education, organisation and mobilisation of the youth into political action.
At this National Congress, the ANCYL must finally and altogether exorcise the demon of its recent past which led to the dissolution of its NEC and must, more than anything else, chart a path into the future that will outlast the present challenges and generations. Delegates must confront candidly and through deep theoretical reflection, the factors that led to the current state of the ANCYL, creating the milieu in which the Congress shall be held.
Too much is at stake for our future, and no time must be wasted to get down to grappling with the tough and urgent business of the day. The last two years have created a political hiatus we are now called upon to close.
Accordingly, four inter-related questions rise to sharp prominence which will demand the attention of the Congress delegates:
- First, the urgent need to rebuild the ANCYL, in terms of both its organisational machinery as well as political and ideological orientation;
- Secondly, the urgent need to mobilise, organise and educate - that is, conscientise - the youth in general so that they remain a dependable, conscious and disciplined revolutionary-democratic force;
- Thirdly, the urgent need to re-establish the vast political influence of the ANCYL in society in general, among the youth and within the ANC; and
- Finally, the urgent need to define the role of the youth during this period that the movement has unanimously decided to characterise as the second phase of the transition.
Rebuilding the ANCYL must be about repositioning it at the very centre of youth struggles, sharpening its ideological and political orientation and strengthening and remoulding its organisational machinery as a potent force for revolutionary change and repository for the best youth in society.
It must continue in its role as a perennial political and organisational reservoir for ever newer recruits and cadres for the pursuit of the national democratic revolution. Its existence ensures that the ANC’s vision of the future is both transmitted to and translated for the newer generations of the youth so that it remains permanently relevant to them.
To do so requires that the ANCYL must be strong and ideologically, politically and organisationally sharpened to be able to confront the struggles of today and the future. It must continue to ground itself among the youth, placing itself at the centre of youth struggles, and particularly at the helm of the progressive youth movement.
For the battles ahead, we must attend to the issue of raising the calibre of the leadership and the all-round competencies of the youth, to impart to them the skills that are necessary for them to carry out their tasks as the shock troops of the revolution. Youth can play a meaningful role in the revolutionary movement only if there is a systematic cadre policy.
Such a cadre policy addresses fundamentally the question of converting the youth from activists into cadres - transforming them from quantity to quality. It will address simultaneously both the question of developing future leaders as well as deepening the ideological outlook of the youth in order to lend content to their militancy. They need to be moulded and socialised into progressive ideas and practice.
In this regard, the ANC’s Decade of the Cadre must be about the youth and the ANCYL must accordingly claim this decade as its own. Focus must be on intensive political education and extensive mass political work.
ANCYL members must singularly focus on the ANCYL itself, on its (political, ideological and organizational) renewal, and stop the rush to lead the ANC and / or to occupy public office. A balance must be struck in this regard.
Furthermore, the leadership layer of the ANCYL must be built from branches upward. In this regard, ANCYL should consider developing its own customised variant of “Through the Eye of the Needle” document, outlining who can and should lead the ANCYL and what are their characteristics! A youth organisation conscious and jealous of, and which cherishes its, role as the guardians of our future, a breeding ground for the future leadership of the ANC and our society, must be vigilant in terms of its leadership structures and the qualities of its leaders.
As an integral part of the revolutionary movement, the ANCYL is charged with the task of fulfilling the strategic objectives of the movement with the greater involvement of the youth. It must rally all the sectors of the youth to participate in the struggle for fundamental social change and champion their political and socio-economic interests. It has the responsibility of organising, mobilising and guiding all youth into participation in the revolutionary struggle.
Accordingly, it bridges the gap between the different generations of the youth and ensures that there is healthy tension between the various generations in such a way as to help imbue the youth with the experience and wisdom of the older and yet fire the older with the enthusiasm, the fearlessness and revolutionary zeal of the young.
The grooming of those who have to ensure that the genuine aspirations of the people are fully realised demands a conscious effort on the part of the movement. The execution of the tasks of the second phase of the transition cannot happen without the strong leadership of the ANC and the active and central participation of the ANCYL as the political home of the youth, the custodians of our future. The youth must lend their perspective to what we mean by “radical socio-economic change” and how they characterise the “second phase of the transition”.
The ANC must invest in the ANCYL and the progressive students’ movement. This requires engagement, presence and visibility on an on-going basis rather than intermittently. We must begin to take SRC elections in tertiary institutions serious. However, given recent experiences resulting from the contestation between the ANCYL AND SASCO during SRC elections, and the impact thereof, how should the question of these SRC elections be managed between the ANCYL and SASCO?
The ANCYL must be repositioned as the natural and only correct political home of all youth, male and female, black and white, drawn from all the sectors - working, students, professional and rural youth. To achieve this, it must continue to espouse the twin tasks; that is, rallying the youth into the struggle under the banner of the ANC as well as championing the political and socio-economic interests of the youth.
This means that, as well as being a political youth organisation with a broader political focus, the ANCYL must pay urgent attention to youth issues particularly such as youth unemployment, education and skills development and youth entrepreneurship, as well as others. Youth issues are the primary objective of the ANCYL and it must strike the necessary balance between broader political as well as youth issues. It must not be so vocal in political issues to the neglect of youth issues.
If it is thus conceded that the above are the broad strategic tasks of the ANCYL that is repositioning itself in the current conjuncture for the future, then it must be asked, what then should its character be given the tasks arising during the second phase of the transition?
Borrowing from the ANC Strategy and Tactics:
To carry out such tasks requires a progressive - militant and disciplined - youth movement which:
- understands the interconnection between political and socio-economic challenges in our society and accordingly between the imperative to rally the youth into politics and the struggle whilst championing their socio-economic interests in an integrated fashion;
- leads the youth motive forces of the NDR in pursuing their common aspirations and ensuring that their sectoral interests are linked to the broader strategic objective as characterised by the ANC;
- masters the terrain of electoral contest, utilises political power wielded by the ANC and uses its position within the ANC as such to advance the broader objectives of the NDR as well as the particular interests of the youth, and ensuring that by its participation in the ANC, it influences the wielding of state instruments in pursuit of youth interests;
- organises and mobilises the motive forces at large, and the youth motive forces in particular, and builds broader partnerships to drive the process of reconstruction and development, nation-building and reconciliation in general, and youth development and empowerment in particular; and
- conducts itself, both in its internal practices and in relation to society at large, particularly among the youth, in line with the ideals represented by the NDR and acts as a microcosm of the future.
Of great relevance is that a revolutionary youth movement understands, conceptualises and characterises itself not in relation to its members or individual leaders, but in relation to the revolutionary tasks it carries on its shoulders, which it must accomplish in history, as well as in relation to the historic mission of a generation.
The ANCYL must always understand that it is not a youth organisation of a modern parliamentary political party, but that of a progressive national liberation movement. This imposes on it the understanding of a particular character, responsibilities and role in society, among the youth as well as within the ANC itself.
Accordingly, its primary tasks remain the mobilisation of the youth in all their different classes, strata and sectors into the struggle under the banner of the ANC; and championing the political and socio-economic interests of the youth. This imposes on the ANCYL the responsibility more intensely to continue rallying all youth sectors behind the pursuit of a better life for all, with a particular bias towards the working class and the poor youth.
The three interrelated challenges of apartheid-colonialism - race, class and gender - still require both that the ANCYL should mobilise around the resolution of these issues, and hence rally into the struggle those social forces most interested in their fundamental and most sustainable resolution. It should recognise the leading role of the working class youth in the pursuit of fundamental social transformation.
In this context, the ANCYL is a disciplined and militant political organ of young revolutionary democrats of the movement, established to bring the youth into the ANC and, at the same time, bring the ANC to the youth. It represents and moulds the future of the ANC and our society all in all its best elements and helps to bridge the gap between the different generations of the movement.
As a militant youth formation, it eschews reformist struggles, neo-liberalism, ultra-leftism and anarchy, and places a high premium on revolutionary discipline of its cadres in particular and youth in general.
To fulfil its leadership role, it places a high premium on the involvement of its cadres in all centres of power in order to ensure that the voice and ideas of the youth are not marginalised, but resonate in the very mainstream of societal endeavour.
ANCYL activists must be found everywhere youth are found, everywhere being the custodians of the principles of fundamental social change; winning respect among their generation and society at large through their exemplary conduct and espousing the very ethos of the ANCYL.
Therefore, the character and strength of the ANCYL must continue to reside in and derive from its mass base. As the leading force among the youth, the ANCYL should continually improve its capacity and skill to influence and transform the instruments of power.
Given all the above tasks, it goes without saying, accordingly, that the ANCYL assumes the same broad character amongst the youth that the ANC assumes in society as a whole. Consequently, both in its character and leadership, the ANCYL must develop the political and organisational capacity to manage these different sectors and mediate their interests. These include the working youth, the unemployed youth, the student youth, as well as the professional / middle-stratum youth.
The character of the ANCYL will never be complete unless the organisation deliberately recruits young women into its ranks. South African women have always been active, across the generations, and their militants have been found in all the pillars of the struggle, during every epoch. Today’s young women face a unique challenge to lead and carry forward to completion the struggles of the women whilst still participating in the mainstream struggle so that they do not get marginalised. Actually, women’s issues must be placed into the very centre / mainstream of youth and broader struggles. The ANCYL must militantly take up the political, social and economic issues affecting young women.
Given the multifarious nature of its character, and that the sectoral interests of each of its social forces may from time-to-time clash, the ANCYL must develop the art and master the science of mediating between and managing these diverse interests to ensure that all these social forces pull in the same direction and appreciate the primacy of the common strategic interest and leadership of the working class.
In managing the clash between sectoral interests, it should remain steadfast to principle and, like the ANC, it must guard against attempts by any force to turn it into a hostage of narrow sectoral interests. This requires that the ANCYL, specifically its leadership echelons, must at all times be conscious of their responsibility to muster all the youth social forces towards the same direction. To achieve this, its members should continually improve their capacity - both political and technical - to act as the most advanced elements of society.
Given the very character of the ANCYL as a youth organisation, it essentially cannot avoid being the microcosm of the future and cannot, accordingly, afford becoming a fossil of the past, conservative and failing to appeal to ever-newer generations of the youth. By its nature, it must always strive to become the harbinger of the impending changes in broader society as well as in the direction and tempo of the struggle.
The ANC has always prided itself in being the broadest and most ardent representative of the youth. The ANCYL must pay conscious attention to this task because without it, the ANC will neither appeal to the youth nor will it have a guaranteed future. This lends enormous weight to how and where it recruits its members, how it nurtures them politically and how it raises their leadership and all-round competencies, how it constitutes its leadership collectives at every tier of the organisation and how it deploys its cadres and activists under the ANC umbrella in order to expand its influence.
The ANCYL must be keen not to create ‘social distance’ between its leaders and members, as well as between its organisation and the youth in general. It must retain the most dynamic contact between itself and the youth, live among them and ensure they are at all times not only attracted to its programmes and listen to its directives, but believe in the ANC and have faith in its programmes, principles, values and the future towards which it is leading them!
This means the ANCYL must never detract from its responsibility of being a “mass youth political organ of the ANC”. It must never be allowed degenerate into being an anti-ANC youth league. It is solely an ANC Youth League and must, whilst being organisationally autonomous, live by the principles and political injunctions of the ANC. The youth must never be confused about the ANCYL’s standpoint in relation to and allegiance to the ANC.
As a “body of opinion” within the ANC, it must express itself fearlessly on any matter of debate and discussion within the ANC. The militant voice and dynamism of youth must be felt and heard by the ANC on all matters and at all times.
At the same time, the youth must be prepared to listen to the wise counsel of the older, which means that the ANC itself must accept the sharp critical analysis of the youth on all matters presented to them. To preclude the ANC from descending into a political fossil that is irrelevant to society, ever-newer challenges and generations, it must always sharpen the ANCYL’s critical analysis and not blunt their constructive criticism and rebelliousness.
At the same time, youth cannot be treated as being of a homogeneous age category. They have different age-cohorts, which both share interests and diverge in terms of their location in the cohorts. The different youth cohorts remain vital to the sustenance of the ANC and ANCYL ideas among the youth and are found at different social locations in the society representing diverse experiences and outlooks.
This enables them to bring their diverse experiences to bear in the progressive youth movement, which can only help to enrich it and make it dynamic. This also assists to educate and provide political mentorship to the young. There could be healthy tensions between these different cohorts arising from their different experiences, perspectives, aspirations as well as ambitions, but the ANCYL must manage these.
The ANCYL needs to find creative ways to lead these different youth social forces in pursuing their common aspirations, ensuring that their sectoral interests are linked to the strategic objectives and harnessing their different talents towards a positive progressive movement for social change.
The vision for the rebuilding of the ANCYL having been established, what then are the elements of the programme it must pursue? What is outlined herein does not confine the ANCYL narrowly to youth issues, but highlights its tasks in terms of its mandate and accordingly programme. They include:
1.1 Youth participation in governance straddles between the broader structures of governance - the executive, the legislature and administration - as well as statutory youth structures, that is, the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA).
1.2 The NYDA must be viewed as a vehicle both directly and indirectly to empower the youth in terms of their socio-economic aspirations as well as to advocate in and coordinate with various government departments, agencies and institutions, including the private sector, in order to empower the youth, particularly the most disadvantaged.
1.3 The ANCYL must be very interested in how these function and must interface with them directly and receive regular reports from them in order to guide them.
1.4 The ANCYL must consistently interact with those of its members who are public representatives at municipal, provincial and national levels. Whilst they draw their mandate from the ANC Manifesto, these youth public representatives must be made to understand their specific youth mandate.
1.5 Furthermore, the ANCYL has members serving in state institutions in the administration. Ways must be found to ensure these are fed the ANCYL line and understand their broad mandate arising out of the ANCYL vision and programme.
- Economic Transformation
2.1 In relation to the youth, the biggest challenge is to engage them in productive economic activity. Three critical elements are vital towards this endeavour; that is, jobs, skills and entrepreneurship.
2.2 Youth employment needs to be prioritised and a sustainable long-term strategy must be developed to get the youth employed in the infrastructure programme particularly. Specific infrastructure programmes must be targeted at youth in order to get the youth employed.
2.3 Regarding skills development programmes,
- government must double the NSFAS funding and demand of State-Owned Companies (SOC) to invest heavily towards skills development, particularly of artisans, at their learning academies; and
- the ANCYL must campaign unrelentingly for free education, especially at junior degree level.
2.4 Youth participation in the economy cannot be confined to employment and skills development; they span to entrepreneurship. It is crucial to identify those strategic areas where the youth can be involved in entrepreneurship and industrialists’ development. These could include youth cooperatives forged around renewable energy, water and sanitation and others.
- Social Transformation
3.1 As well as being the strongest and most vociferous advocates of the National Health Insurance (NHI), the ANCYL must spearhead specific campaigns aimed at improving the general health status of the youth particularly through preventive health care and addressing poverty afflicting the youth, especially young women. Furthermore, the ANCYL must continue to occupy the space around preventable and communicable diseases, against with particular reference to young women who remain vulnerable. Fighting diseases is not just about defending the vulnerable, but it is about empowering them so they cease being vulnerable.
3.2 With regard to education,
- The ANCYL must spearhead campaigns to popularise public education and Technical and Vocational Education and Training Institutions (TVETs);
- TVETs must be linked particularly with State-Owned Companies (SOC) in order to ensure they can benefit from the vast capital resources and skilled human resources of the SOC, and further so that the skills they provide are the types of skills required in the economy; and
- A vigorous campaign to fight the escalating cost of higher education must be waged, linked with the campaign to double or even treble NSFAS.
3.3 The ANCYL must spearhead campaigns for the establishment of vibrant and extensive school and community sports, as well as community and school sports and recreation centres, arts and culture centres, museums and other such sites that commemorate and immortalise our struggle.
3.4 Youth development is vital to ensuring that the historical deprivation of the youth, and their locking into the vicious cycle of poverty, is ended. There is an urgent need for youth development plans at municipal levels.
- Building a Progressive International Youth Movement in pursuit of the New World Order, particularly in Africa and the developing world
4.1 The ANCYL must,
- spearhead the establishment of a progressive youth movement for Africa’s renewal, the seeds of which already in many countries, particularly in the former Frontline States,
- engage the African students studying in South African universities, and thus consider opening membership to them so that they can belong to it and imbibe its progressive ideas and policies, and democratic political culture, and
- continue to be an advocate for an international progressive youth movement, in which structures, its role and voice as Africa’s own champion must be vociferous and unequivocal.
Two decades after the advent of democracy in our country, the ANCYL must question the reasons for its existence, the role and place of the youth in struggle as well as the environment in which it must carry out its historic tasks.
In conclusion, it is worthwhile to revert to Walter Sisulu’s Preface to the Anton Lembede biography in 1994:
“Fifty years after the founding of the Youth League, the message of Lembede, its first elected President remains clear: that it is the youth who have the capacity to renew the struggle, which today continues in a new form. It is the critical gaze of the youth who play the time-honoured role of re-examining the status quo, sometimes to the discomfort of the ‘old-guard.’ It is they who always had the capacity and energy to renew and reinvigorate the ANC so that its grassroots members could continue to play their rightful part in democratising our society. And, just as in Lembede’s generation, the youth also have the flexibility to scrutinise their own positions, and have the courage to adapt them to changing conditions if need be. These are important lessons to examine in the context of Lembede’s time, and to reconsider in the light of today’s historic moment.”
It is time for the ANCYL to shed the past and chart a longer future than we can imagine.