Can the ANCYL be the answer to the crisis of youth leadership and development in South Africa?

Delegates to the 24th national conference of the ANC Youth League.

Zama Mthunzi 

The formation and the announcement of the African National Congress Youth League National Youth National Task Team (ANCYL NYTT) last month has focussed attention on youth leadership in the country. Although the primary objective of the ANCYL NYTT is to deliver the long-awaited congress of the ANCYL that has been postponed several times now, it has the potential to revive a once powerful political force. One cannot forget the vibrant ANCYL coming from way back, the ANCYL of Anton Lembede with the likes of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo to the more recent ANCYL under the likes of  Malusi Gigaba, Fikile Mbalula and lastly Julius Malema.

The ANCYL has spent the last 10 years in disarray following the expulsion of Julius Malema. Discussion of the possible re-emergence of the league however has been caught in concerns that it should remain above the fray of the ANC’s factional battles.Due to the crisis of leadership in the ANC itself, with the “RET bloc” on one side, the Cyril Ramaphosa supporters on the other, and at least two other smaller groupings making up the numbers, it is likely that this “revival” might end up being used as a “political knife” in the political battles of the party. This much has been conveyed by convener Nonceba Mhlauli.  

 The autonomy of the league is of course important. But right now, it is not the biggest problem.

Read more: Revive ANCYL: Old ANCYL Can’t Be Replaced By ANC Seniors 

Another worry that might contribute to this is whether the radical history and memory of the ANCYL will not be passed on to the new leadership and that massive changes within the struggles of young people have occurred and this will require a much deeper understanding on which direction the ANCYL takes going forward. 

The ANCYL has been entirely absent in recent crucial struggles of young people. The 2015/2016 Fees Must Fall(FMF) movement and recent 2021 uprising, struggles of learners at schools, struggles against youth unemployment which is at its worst, struggles against Gender Based Violence, the struggles for the implementation of the Basic Income Grant – the list is endless. Youth development agencies and youth governance structures like the NYDA have been in crisis, with young people taking the process to court. The National Youth Policy (2030) is a complete joke and a copy and paste of the National Youth Policy (2015).  

The task of the ANCYL NYTT must not only focus on rebuilding the leadership structures which might end up just being a step leader to positions of power in the ANC but it must also focus on reviving itself as the leader movement of young people in South Africa, a movement that took to the streets to fight for Free Education, against youth unemployment and for the interests of young people before. 

It is important that the ANCYL NYTT doesn’t take a linear position that says, 1; we fix the leadership crisis then, 2; we organise and mobilize to fight for young people’s interests. Young people have borne the brunt of the economic woes of this country. The coronavirus pandemic accelerated these woes of young people. The chaos we saw in public schooling, with closure and opening schools, young people being the first in the retrenchment lines due to the “last in, first out principle” and continuous FMF protests.

The ANCYL should not wait until it is “organized” or “ready” to mount a struggle. The fight is already going on and it has been on for some time.  Young people in the townships, at universities, at workplaces have been part of social struggles. The need of a youth movement in the political arena that is able to organise young people across, to unify and give a sense amongst young people that the struggle of a young person who financially excluded at Wits is the same struggle of a young person in the township and rural areas who needs that R350 unemployment grant and the same for young women and girls fighting against gender based violence. 

Read more: ‘We Can’t Be Led By Elders,’ Says Revive ANCYL Group 

It is important then to ask this question of whether the ANCYL will bounce back and return to the political force we all have known it to be. Historically in South Africa, groups that lose power once never seem to be able to bounce back. Maybe the reason the ANCYL is important is that no form of national youth organisation has risen in the period of its disarray. The rise of the EFF has been visible but it has not fully taken over the position that was occupied by the Youth League in our townships and rural areas. 

The ANCYL might not be the answer to the struggles of young people. After all, it might not go back to its glory days and be a political force. However any effort to build a youth organisation, to bring back the youth representative structures that have been absent in political discourse, to guide the struggles of young people surely presents a moment of hope. 

Zama Mthunzi is a Mathematical Science graduate from Wits University, education activist and recognised as Mail & Guardian Top 200 under the education category in 2020.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies of The Daily Vox.