‘ANC ere kgwetse hatshe’, a friend often writes on Twitter. He is hundred percent spot-on. The African National Congress undermines us as a society, but if there is a section of society that the ruling party pisses on every chance it gets, it is the youth of this country. What is ironic is that the very same ANC that undermines the youth was founded by youth. When Pixley ka Isaka Seme returned to South Africa on the eve of 1910, after spending years abroad studying, he had just turned 29. In early 1912, on January 8th, alongside activists and chiefs, including his equally talented contemporaries such as Alfred Mangena, Richard Msimang and George Montshiwa, Seme established the South African Native National Congress, what today we know as the ANC. Thus, the ANC, the dwindling hope of the African people, was established by a young man of thirty years.
In 1944 when the ANC’s existence was threatened by ideological squabbles, the youth once again stepped in to breath life into a liberation movement that had then lost its way. The ANC Youth League under the visionary leadership of Muziwakhwe Anton Lembede and Solomzi Ashby Peter Mda was founded on 10th September 1944. That group of ANC Youth League would produce outstanding future leaders of the ANC. When they founded the ANC Youth League, Lembede was just 30-years of age and Mda 28-years-old. Unfortunately, three years later while studying towards a doctorate degree in Law, Lembede succumbed to his mortality aged 33; however, his intellectual and political spirit remained within many of his comrades many of whom would later lead the ANC and the PAC (Pan Africanist Congress). The Programme of Action formulated and drafted by the youth leaguers, a document which many say embodies the sharp intellect and soul of Lembede, would be adopted by the ANC in 1949.
Even during the period when the liberation movements were banned in South Africa, the seemingly undiminishing energy of the youth continued to guide the ANC. When former president Thabo Mbeki made the following statement, taken from his less famous yet important discourse on the ugly history of South Africa, delivered in Canada in February 1978, he was only 35-years-old. He declared thus: ‘…we must resist all attempts to persuade us that our future lies in the hands of an ungovernable fate. For the imperative of our epoch has charged us with the task of transforming ourselves from the status of objects of history to that of masters of history.’
Post 1994 the youth within the ANC continued to make impact and contributed to the national dialogue. Perhaps, the most memorable epoch was one led by Sello Julius Malema, the current leader of the EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) and probably the next commander-in-chief of the armed forces of South Africa, depending on what happens from now on until the general elections in 2019. By the time he was 30, Malema was a household name in South African politics.
It was under the leadership of Julius Malema that the then able and roaring ANC youth league, which included the late Sindiso Magaqa, Kenetswe Mosenogi and Floyd Shivambu to name a few, began to make noise about land expropriation without compensation and the nationalisation of key sectors of the economy. This was about eight years ago, if not more. To the detriment of the ANC, the spineless adults within the party, terrified by the militancy of the young lions, and therefore wishing not to rattle the status quo, elected to make the expensive mistake of putting Malema and his radical army of firebrands under suspension. That rookie mistake has since come to haunt them, with some within the ANC, evidently acknowledging Malema’s political clout and influence, suggesting that the EFF leader should go back to what is now a paralysed liberation movement on a deathbed.
This limping towards self-destruction is one the ANC brought upon itself. It deliberately decided to ignore the voice of the youth. At its national elective conference last December at Nasrec, Soweto, the ruling party elected to the top six of its highest decision making body, the national executive committee, a largely tired and mediocre crop of leaders, whose youngest member is 56-years-old. Now, I know that some will be quick to dismiss this article as ageist, but if you have observed how since 1994 the ANC has recycled old people whose grasp of the demands of the modern day is as sharp as a table knife, you will understand my argument. Watch how ANC members of Parliament are always nodding off in the National Assembly and tell if me these are suitable people who could be relied upon to convey the message of voters and represent the hopes and dreams of South Africans, particularly the poor whom majority is black. The ANC president, and in extension the president of South Africa, will turn 66 in November. He is still clutching jealously to the hopes of becoming president next year, and will probably contest again in 2024 when he is 71. Lord help us all.
Speaking of septuagenarians, to prove yet again that the ANC has developed a cruel dislike for the youth in recent years, the former liberation movement has imposed a 70-year-old on the people of North West to replace the much younger Supra Mahumapelo as premier. Yes, Supra might have his own shenanigans, and given his relative young age – two decades in difference – compared to the newly inaugurated premier, Tebogo Job Mokgoro, some would argue that my argument falls completely flat in this scenario. I beg to differ. Mokgoro compared to Supra, given the latter’s credentials and record, might be a better candidate but that hardly diminishes my argument; in fact, it strengthens it. Couldn’t the ANC find a young and equally capable cadre within its ranks? Does the ANC not trust the young people in its rank and file to lead it out of the quagmire it finds itself in the North West? In his playing a selfish political chess game, compromising principle for personal gain, Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC president, is proving that he is not different from his predecessor, if not worse.
As you would have noted in the paragraphs above, my argument is that the ANC has always had the youth to rely upon in times of danger. The youthful energy of youngsters has always a been a shield with which the ANC protected itself against extinction. Thus, a question has to be posed: what is it that the current ANC fears about an independent minded youth? The ANC’s very being is a result of a strong-willed youth that had realised that a new struggle with a different approach had to be waged against a racist regime of colonialists.
Based on this evidence, a conclusion can be drawn here about the ANC’s resentful attitude towards the youth of South Africa: it undermines them. Could it be the parents are worried the children might just discover a closet full of skeletons? Why else would they seek to banish them to Siberia, if not to protect their dark, shameful secrets? Ideally, the senior members in the ANC should always be excited to build and sustain an environment where the youth are free to exchange ideas and thoughts with their elders to ensure the ANC forever remains the hope it was once was for millions around the country; after all, a nation not invested in its youth runs the risk of being extinguished. Unfortunately, this logic doesn’t seem to appeal to the elders in the ruling party.
In late 2011, former president of the ANC and country, Jacob Zuma, brought in Derek Hanekom and Cyril Ramaphosa to help him discipline the ANC Youth League of Malema, Shivambu, Mosenogi and Magaqa. According to reports, the elders had grown tired of the aggressive roaring of the young lions, constantly shouting Economic Freedom in our lifetime from public podiums; ironically a slogan coined by the founding president of the ANC Youth League, Anton Lembede. Thus, they had to be contained, and Hanekom and Ramaphosa, were just the perfect mercenaries the old man needed to silence the youngsters. Malema and his comrades were subsequently suspended from the ANC, and the following year the Economic Freedom Fighters under the energetic leadership of Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu was established; and they have been the bane of the ANC ever since.
Next month the EFF, a party that looks ready to snatch power from the ANC in next year’s general elections, turns five, and its leader, Julius Malema, is only 37-years-old. Meanwhile, the ANC, nowadays an unashamedly exclusive gathering of useless pensioners, led by the walker, Cyril Ramaphosa, is hobbling embarrassingly from one pit of scandal into another, awaiting their imminent death, while they continue to do a tremendous job of alienating the youth of this country. I would know; after all I am youth. Kgotsong!