Things are getting very interesting in South African politics. They are confusing too. The emergence of the Economic Freedom Fighters has made things worse. Now, imagine that you are a young person, an active member of the ANCYL and also a young worker participating in a Cosatu-aligned union. At every level of your activism you were taught about Marxism and the struggle for socialism. You are so well-taught you can recite Marxist terms and rhetoric without blinking an eye lid. Woken up at 2am and asked to recite the demands of the freedom charter, you can do so word by word. That is how well-schooled you are. You were also part of the young people who enthusiastically bought into the struggle to nationalise mines and redistribute land at the ANCYL conference. It’s a struggle you championed and sold to your branch and community. Economic freedom in our lifetime you chanted.

At work you were seen as a vibrant young worker and became a shop steward. You love Julius Malema. He articulates the things you agreed on at Gallagher Estate so eloquently and passionately. You even stood by him against a “white liberal media witch-hunt”. It was drummed into your heard at most political schools that the media is an auxiliary structure of your class enemies — the bloody capitalists. You know your politics very well and are not fooled by “the media’s role in defending capitalism and its excesses”. You are a real commissar. When they exposed some of your leaders as being involved in shady dealings in Limpopo you knew this was a capitalist backlash. You viewed it as a media offensive against your leadership and by extension the ANCYL for its radical politics.

Just after electing your ANCYL leadership and preparing for “radical change” your president and the secretary general were suspended. Internal bickering starts and your struggle is thrown into disarray. You look at how the ANC dealt with the material issues that led to your leader being expelled and you are convinced that it was more personal than a case of ill-discipline. You know very well that if it was ill-discipline Nelson Mandela himself would have been expelled from the ANC long before his hero status. This gets you angry. How could Jacob Zuma do this to the ANCYL, which got him to power and sold him to the masses to vote for?

You’re gatvol now. You remember it’s an ANC elective year and that maybe there is a chance to remove Zuma. You tell yourself that after the ANC conference Zuma will be gone and the struggle for economic freedom will be in full swing. You begin to use every platform to mobilise for an alternative. You sell Kgalema Motlanthe as Zuma’s ideal replacement. But you are immediately confronted by a problem, the man is indecisive. Every time you mobilise for him people keep asking: What if the man does not stand? What if they are in collusion with Zuma against your expelled leader? Why is he not being clear whether he will stand? Now your campaign has been scuppered. You are frustrated.

Meanwhile, Malema goes on a vengeful tirade against Zuma. He says things that embarrass you. Each time you mobilise for Motlanthe people look at what Malema is saying against a stalwart of the liberation struggle and cringe. They agree Zuma must go but suddenly drift away from Malema. They conclude he is disparaging and unruly.

You get to the ANC elective conference and lose. Your hero Malema is officially in the periphery. Your interim president “sells your struggle out” and apologises to Zuma. You feel defeated. Malema goes out of the political scene. You accept democratic centralism and support Zuma. Then out of the blue you learn the ANC NEC has dissolved your elected leaders and in turn the new national task team has dissolved your provincial/regional leadership.

You’re confused and angry now. Malema makes a dramatic comeback. He reveals he has a new party and you feel nostalgic again. But he starts attacking the ANC, the only party you have known and are prepared to die for. You’re still angry with Zuma but love the ANC. You’re equally bitter about how Malema was dealt a raw deal but won’t leave the ANC because your family, friends and even boss is ANC. In any event you know very well it’s cold outside the ruling party.

Malema starts talking the working-class issues you hold so dear in your heart. Suddenly your body is in the ANC but heart in the EFF. You have cognitive dissonance. You tell yourself you will secretly vote EFF while still in the ANC and then, the horror of horrors, Malema introduces Kenny Kunene as leader of the EFF. You are put off. You can’t help but agree with EFF, it was after all, the very things you were taught by various ANC, Cosatu and SACP leaders in various forums and political schools.

You do not know what to do: Defend the ANC against the vitriolic attacks or silently agree with the EFF? It’s not easy being an ANCYL member these days.


Manqoba Nxumalo

Manqoba Nxumalo

Manqoba Nxumalo is a journalist, social-justice activist. Follow him on twitter @NxumaloManqoba

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