The Support For Mcebo Dlamini’s Youth League Candidacy Is Gendered

Former FMF leader Mcebo Dlamini speaks at PYA pre-election rally, 2018.

Former Fees Must Fall (FMF) activist and student leader Mcebo Dlamini will contest for the position of African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) presidency this weekend. While students support his contestation, political analyst Dr Sithembile Mbete says the support of Dlamini is gendered.

Decked out in ANC regalia, Dlamini confirmed his candidacy in an interview with eNCA on October 14. He said he had been approached by various ANC structures to contest for the position and will defer his dreams of becoming an advocate to accept the call. “It stops being about you. You cease to exist as an individual but you work for those people. They come first, you come last,” Dlamini says. “It’s another dream deferred for the struggle – which is the black agenda – because ours is restoring the dignity of the black child”.

Dlamini is well-known as student leader in the FMF movement, as well as his recent campaigns to plead for amnesty for activists charged during the movement.

The former student leader faces charges of public violence, assault and damage to property for his involvement in FMF. Dlamini previously walked from Wits University to the Union Buildings to call for blanket amnesty for students involved in the FMF protests. He is due back in court again on October 19.

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He said although he led the protest, there is no evidence of his violent behaviour. “I am not a violent person. Maybe my language might be robust, but I’m not violent,” Dlamini said.

According to Dlamini, the FMF movement has come to an end. “We can’t be protesting when it’s time to harvest,” he said. Although he admits that students have not yet achieved free education completely, Dlamini said government is committed to free education. The issue, Dlamini says, is with National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and its management and distribution of funds.

The political trajectory

The FMF cohort protested conditions that the ruling party created. Besides that, the ANCYL was never in support of the movement. Current ANCYL president Collen Maine has previously called the FMF movement “counter-revolutionary” and likened it to “treason”. When asked about the previous disparaging remarks about FMF, Dlamini said it can be difficult to speak under the banner of the Youth League because it is linked to government.

“As members of the ANCYL, we are in bed with the government. It makes it difficult to speak under the banner of the Youth League broadly and take a stance. But we have been doing that. We remain rooted with the interests of the students. I have always said that ours is to serve the interests of the poorest of the poor, the voiceless. Ours is not to please old people who are in power,” Dlamini said.

Despite lamenting the “career” politicians in the ANC, Dlamini was optimistic about the ruling party’s quality of leadership. In the interview he said the Youth League is “rich with capable leaders,” although it has been “commodified” and “extravagance has taken over”.

Dlamini said he understands the struggles of the youth. According to him, the youth is radical and want solutions to the problems. “The youth must assess the situation on the ground and elect a president who has the qualities that best represent them.”

And the youth loves Dlamini. Wits students in particular are optimistic about Dlamini’s possible position within government. “The only person who appeals to the youth in the country is Mcebo Dlamini,” Mpendulo Mfeka, third year LLB student at Wits and Progressive Youth Alliance leader said in an interview with The Daily Vox.

“If we do not realise that as the ANC and the ANCYL then it means that as a country, we have a long way to go,” he added.

Mfeka said he does think it’s a contradiction for Dlamini to move from FMF leader to government structures. “I think it’s complementary. It shows that he is in touch with young people on the ground. We want leaders that appeal to the struggles of the youth today. If you had to say ‘young people in the country, who is your last hope?’ It would be Mcebo Dlamini,” Mfeka said.

Hlulani Homu, second year social work student and member of the Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFFSC), said he had heard about Dlamini even before he enrolled in university. “I saw him on TV. I’ve see the things he does, and it’s good because most of those things are as radical as the EFF. What worries me is that he is in the wrong political party. I worry that they [the ANC] are going to capture him to be one of those corrupt people,” Homu said.

Homu said he is rooting for Dlamini to win the election. “Maybe he can be like Julius Malema, who was the Youth League president. You can tell they [the ANC] expelled Malema due to his radicalist politics,” Homu said.

“I value someone who risks his life, family, friends for me. Mcebo Dlamini, with the things he does – he even walked to the Union Buildings – has risked,” Homu added.

“If Mcebo Dlamini lets his ideologies and principles that he has guide him and not let the ANC leaders corrupt him, he might be an advantage to the students because he knows the struggles of the students. He has been part of them. He will mobilise the government to be on his side and we will benefit,” Alinah Lepele, second year social work student and EFFSC member said.

Political analyst Dr Sithembile Mbete says it isn’t surprising at all that FMF leaders are moving into mainstream politics. “That’s par for the course with youth movements and radical student movements. Many politicians – not only in South Africa but all over the world – cut their teeth on radical student politics,” Mbete said.

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Mbete says that what often happens however is that student leaders who enter the mainstream often don’t remain as radical as they were in their youth. “As people get older and join the responsibilities of adulthood, their politics change. That’s why we need a new cohort of student leaders who continue the cause or take up new causes that are emerging,” Mbete said.

As for whether the Youth League can make the radical change that Dlamini says they can, Mbete says the organisation is at a crossroads. “The Youth League has been disempowered and weakened since Julius Malema was expelled in 2012. The aim, it seems, of the ANC leadership has been to neutralise the Youth League and not have it be as much a dissenting voice within the ANC as it used to be,” she said.

Given that the Youth League has been “a bodyguard of the ANC but not really challenging the party leadership”, it can either continue supporting the ANC no matter what, or try to go back to what the Youth League was: a radical force under the border of the ANC, that holds its leadership to account and brings forward more radical policy positions.

The support for Dlamini is gendered

The support for Dlamini compared to the contempt for female leaders like Nompendulo Mkhatshwa and Fasiha Hassan – who were criticised for taking ownership of the movement for being on the cover of Destiny magazine as a student leader and accepting a peace award on behalf of the movement respectively – is no coincidence.

“One of the things that we saw from FMF, within the movement itself but also in response to it, is how much of the response was gendered,” Mbete said.

Mbete said that when women put themselves forward in positions of leadership within movements or join mainstream politics, it is seen as exceptional behaviour. “Women are judged far more harshly for ordinary political behaviour than men are because it’s still perceived that the political realm is not a space for women,” Mbete says. “It indicates that no matter how radical the politics, it can be very patriarchal and old fashioned with really conservative gender politics.”

The Youth League is set to elect its new leadership from 18 to 21 October at its 26th National Congress held at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg.

ANCYL treasurer general Reggie Nkabinde and KwaZulu Natal ANCYL provincial secretary Thanduxolo Sabela will also be contesting for the position.

Responding to a question from The Daily Vox at a press conference on Wednesday, EFF leader Julius Malema said he doesn’t think Dlamini is a candidate for Youth League presidency. “I don’t have a comment about being compared with Mcebo Dlamini. I think Reggie [Nkabinde] must win the Youth League presidency because if Reggie wins, the Youth League will become more irrelevant,” Malema said.