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ANCYL (Pty) Ltd

Recently a friend asked me what I, as a former member of the organisation, now make of the ANC Youth League.

Her question resulted in me googling the names of my former comrades, who in the early Nineties had been activists in a range of Congress-aligned associations at the formerly named University of Port Elizabeth. By chance I managed to come across the following comments by our then chairperson:

“When I was a student, the driving force in my life was fighting apartheid. It was the big issue for me, and others like me. It was all-consuming: we existed to oppose this system. When it ended, I realised that I didn’t have another direction in life. I had never thought of a career. I couldn’t have imagined [one] under such a horrific system.”

Recalling those days when we were still banned by a Broederbond rector and harassed by the security branch, what strikes me was the selfless dedication of people like the abovementioned, who didn’t, it seems — despite all the energy expended — even consider the possibilities of a political career.

Today an examination of the ANCYL’s website reveals that it advertises jobs at a FTSE 100 company like Old Mutual and at a multinational manufacturer like Volkswagen.

Indeed, the organisation has a financial arm called Lembede Investments Holdings, and some of its prominent members now have portfolios in agriculture, fishing, forestry, mining, property development and telecommunications.

Prior to democracy our concern was how to develop the Freedom Charter, which included the following vision: “The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole.”

Fifteen years since our first elections, Lembede, however, now markets our citizens and our country as an “investment zone for the rest of the world”, one offering “affordability of … labour and proximity to raw materials”.

Such then is the obvious difference between the idealism of previous generations and the R122-million estimated worth of the contemporary patronage.

Of course all this blue-chip affluence is not the impression that is created by the league’s red-hot speeches and two-fisted statements.

Take, for example, the outgoing political report by its former president, at the 23rd congress, full of quotes from Frantz Fanon, Antonio Gramsci and Karl Marx, and a surfeit of words such as “dialectical”, “militant” and “revolutionary”.

Read in context, however, these lose all their import, for over and above the crony capitalism, Fikile Mbalula’s language — and consequently his thought — is nothing else but turgid.

Note that far from being the idiosyncrasy of the comrade, this political report has also been explicitly endorsed by the current incumbent in his first online letter.

The following selection, dear reader, is typical:

“Accordingly, our strategic intent is to ensure that as we move towards the ANC centenary, the ANCYL remains the vanguard of championing the course of young people, whilst defending the gains [sic] our democracy. These challenges demand of us to refocus and rejuvenate our resolve, and ensure that change and continuity remains the epicenter of our strategic discourse.”

“The Youth League of the next five years will be different to the Youth League of today, on the back of the dynamism and realities that will challenge them.

“Whence, unity and cohesion of the ANC become a paramount centrality, and a magnetic north that should pull everyone of us to dedicate ourselves towards achieving this vision.”

Dying metaphors (“vanguard”), meaningless words (after all, isn’t an “epicentre” part of an earthquake?) and pretentious diction (such as “strategic discourse”) have been arranged in order to give what George Orwell — in his Politics and the English Language — called “an appearance of solidity to pure wind”.

Instead of plainly saying that he is concerned that the ANC should remain — like a force of nature — omnipotent, his verbiage makes all this sound like the consequence of some deep deliberation rather than what it is: the crude will-to-power.

As Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatistas recently said: “Power poisons the blood and clouds the mind.” And the political speech that ensues, as Orwell suggests by way of a similar image, is a form of corruption:

“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.”

As such, we should look askance at the recent description of the ANCYL as a “brand” by its Western Cape chairperson, Siyazi Tyatyam, for there is, indeed, nothing more reactionary than to masquerade appearances as reality.

And there is nothing more irrelevant: one has to be dismayed that an organisation that insists on its “vanguardism” had absolutely nothing to say, in all of its six conference discussion documents, about climate change and chronic food shortages.

Like our Broederbond rector all those years ago who couldn’t read the signs, irrelevancy typically doesn’t recognise itself:

The league does not reflect anything of the creative and radial intellect of today’s global anti-capitalist youth who — by rejecting the empty gestures of clenched fists orchestrated by ambitious speakers — are trying to “build power without taking it”. They are experimenting with decentralised forms of direct democracy, while the league still mystifies the cult of personality behind the alliance’s “democratic centralism”.

(Yes, the organisation is affiliated to a body called the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY). In fact, Comrade Mbalula was at one stage its president. But if you consider that Young Labour — the youth wing of Britain’s Labour Party — is also a member, you will understand precisely what sort of “socialism-for-the-rich” this is. An ANCYL document makes this abundantly clear: IUSY is a youth wing of many … organisations [that] are ruling parties in Europe.)

Alongside the balderdash of BBBEE, exhibitionist masculinity, succession struggles and the vapidity of Zuma-ism, the league’s other purpose is confronting racism. All and well, but it should heed the words of Angela Davis, the former American Communist Party and Black Panther member:

“When the inclusion of black people into the machine of oppression is designed to make that machine work more efficiently, then it does not represent progress at all. We have more black people in more visible and powerful positions. But then we have far more black people who have been pushed down to the bottom of the ladder. When people call for diversity and link it to justice and equality, that’s fine. But there’s a model of diversity as the difference that makes no difference, the change that brings about no change.”

By way of a postscript I note that the new president, Julius Malema, says that he will try to convince the reconvened 23rd conference to end the relationship between the ANCYL and its (Pty) Ltd.

But I’m not encouraged when he simultaneously excuses the R20-million extravagance of a riotous conference by saying: “You can’t expect them to behave like adults … youth league members utilise their energy by jumping on tables [and] jiving”. He has, to be fair, subsequently condemned “the unbecoming conduct” but he does so — like so many politicians — without reference to what he previously suggested in the Sunday Independent.

Nor am I hopeful when he says in one of his first interviews that, “I personally want to lobby the congress of the youth league in June to resolve that [Jacob] Zuma’s case must be removed from the roll”.

To come to terms with cronyism — let alone global capitalism — requires much more than populist politics. Because corruption is a revolving door at the very heart of the ANC, to combat it effectively the league needs principles.