Mzansi Afrika

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Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Has the ANC Youth League lost the plot?

Tomorrow is International Youth Day and next week the ANC Youth League holds its 22nd National Congress in Johannesburg. This year the League also celebrates it’s 60th anniversary, and in doing so claims to be the oldest youth organization of its kind on the African continent. So, I thought it would be a good time to do a blog entry on the ANC Youth League (ANCYL.) Has the Youth League adapted from being a forceful struggle movement in the days of apartheid into an organization equipped to effectively fight the challenges facing today’s South African youth? Or has it merely become a nice comfortable place for budding ANC politicians to bide their time dabbling in useless policy initiatives until they make the transition into senior government positions?

Two ways that the ANCYL have tried to make their mark have been through the National Youth Commission (NYC), and the Umsobomvu Youth Fund. The NYC is a statutory body established in terms of the National Youth Commission Act and aims to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the challenges facing the youth. Umsobomvu is a financial lending institution established by government to help disadvantaged youth to finance small business and other business enterprises. It is policed by the NYC. I think it may also be a Youth League investment arm although I do stand to be corrected on this.

All in all it seems that the NYC basically concentrates on advising the various government departments on youth friendly policy making. I heard ANCYL leader Malusi Gigaba being interviewed on radio not too long ago. Whenever he was asked about concrete projects that the YL were involved in he kept on referring to the work done by the NYC. Hard questions about policy input were answered in the vaguest of terms and he ducked and dived, and seemed simply unable to mention any real, working projects. In general the NYC has come under criticism for failing to implement pro-youth policies.

As far as Umsobomvu goes, today’s Sowetan reports that it has even come under criticism from within the ANCYL itself for not sticking to its mandate of developing the youth, but rather operates like a conventional bank taking limited risks.

It also seems to me that some senior Youth League members have been using the organization as a path to self enrichment. The
Mail & Guardian has the dirt:

“In July 2003 Lembede Investment Holdings, the African National Congress Youth League’s (
ANCYL) investment company, was touted as the new 16,5% empowerment partner in property management company Rand Leases. The deal appears to have been a sham to achieve two goals: to enrich youth league leaders and to prepare the ground for a questionable bid by mining house JCI to take full control of Rand Leases. The JCI bid for Rand Leases was questioned — and subsequently probed by the securities regulation authority — after minority shareholders discovered that JCI was using a company controlled by youth league leaders as a front”.

Two of the greatest challenges facing young people in South Africa today are unemployment and HIV/AIDS. It seems to me that the ANCYL has failed to do anything substantial, and particularly the NYC has failed in carrying out its mandate. Even if they have come up with good policies, they certainly haven’t managed to get any of them implemented. Looking back at the contribution of the Youth League over the past ten years it seems difficult to tell what they have actually been doing about making a real difference to improving the lives of South African youth. I know that I don’t have the world’s best memory but it seems that whenever the ANCYL is in the media it’s either because they’re being criticized, or because they’re issuing statements backing up things their government masters have said. This particular gem written last year on Zimbabwe was found on their website:

“Perhaps because we sought to respect some rules of diplomacy, we, the ANC Youth League, have also avoided speaking our mind about the true intentions of those who have criticized our government's policies towards Zimbabwe. In the process, lies and distortions have been told about the true story of Zimbabwe, the real intention being to distract public attention and influence public opinion. Of this, in Shakespeare's Henry V, King Henry V says to Lord Scrope, the Earl of Cambridge, and Sit Thomas Grey: "'Tis so strange that though the truth of it stands off as gross as black on white, my eye will scarcely see it".

According to the Sowetan, a radical shake-up of Youth League leadership is expected during the upcoming conference, a leadership with a more radical stance concerning youth policies. Personally I think the YL has lost it’s bite, it didn’t sit around making policies and talking when it was a radical grassroots youth movement fighting for democracy. What has happened to that fighting spirit? Why aren’t they aligning themselves with movements like the Treatment Action Campaign and fighting against government’s stance on aids, or using their government and business connections to set up youth internment and employment training schemes? As the Mail & Guardian reports : "When confronted with questions about conflict of interests among its leaders who also have business interests, the league is prone to respond: "We fought for this democracy so that we can enjoy its fruit. What is wrong with young people becoming rich?" I guess there’e nothing wrong with Youth League members becoming rich – as long as they don’t forget why their organization exists in the first place, and it seems to me that this of what many of them have done.

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