While Nelson Mandela clings precariously to life in a Pretoria hospital, the organisation he helped birth finds itself similarly in extremis.

Mandela, however, would find it difficult to recognise in today’s African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) anything that would make him and his co-founders proud. For not only is the offspring an embarrassment to the parent organisation, but it is also an unflattering spotlight on the ANC’s leadership failures.

After all, there’s no hope of running a country, when you are unable even to control the kindergarten. So the ANC’s inability to govern effectively is hardly surprising, given its inability to manage its own youth wing.

The same lacklustre ANC national leadership that passively watched – sometimes abetted – the five-year slide of the ANCYL into bankrupt fiefdoms, is also responsible for South Africa’s current political and economic fragility. It’s a leadership that is morally expedient, politically manipulative, strategically shortsighted, and entirely unwilling to take responsibility for its actions.

High court judgment has been reserved in an events company application for the liquidation of the ANCYL, to recover whatever is possible of R15-million owed for its 2008 congress. That’s the farcical congress where the now expelled Julius Malema was elected ANCYL president amidst vote-rigging accusations and fisticuffs.

Oh, and this, too, was when the ANCYL made one of its more memorable contributions to our political life: that killer debating tactic of baring your bum and waggling it at your opponents. It has since honed its anal antics into the more recent practice of slinging faeces at those with whom you disagree.

Thuggery in various forms was tacitly encouraged by some in the ANC leadership, for the ANCYL was critical to the presidential aspirations of one Jacob Zuma. Malema, after all, said he was ready to take up arms and kill for Zuma.

And when Malema was eventually clinically disposed of it was not because he threatened violence, spouted the foulest racist invective, and with his threats of land grabs and nationalisation cost the country billions in investment. Malema was dumped simply because he crossed Zuma.

This week ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe argued in court against the ANCYL’s liquidation on the grounds that it was a political organisation, not a business. In any case, there could be no point in liquidation, since the ANCYL had no assets. Outside court, the ANC is simultaneously disavowing any moral or legal responsibility for the debt on the spurious basis that the league is a separate entity.

That’s clearly not true. When Malema was booted in 2011, the disciplinary committee rejected the ANCYL argument that it was ‘autonomous and therefore independent’. The ruling, endorsed by the ANC’s national executive, was that the league owed its existence to the ANC and ‘exists for the sole benefit of the ANC’. Or as it has turned out, to the detriment of the ANC.

This explicitly subsidiary role of the ANCYL was demonstrated, coincidentally also this week, when an ANC task team unilaterally disbanded five ANCYL provincial executives and more than half of the regional ones, while another three provinces are now run directly by the team. Since the ANC is able to make such draconian interventions if it wishes, one wonders why it failed to exercise diligent managerial oversight when it was obvious to the entire world that some in the ANCYL were looting and squandering its funds.

In just three years, the young‘uns managed to convert assets of R122-million into R36-million of debt, all owed to small businesses and individuals. Legally, no head office of a commercial entity that was similarly negligent in controlling its wholly-owned subsidiary would be allowed to walk away unscathed. Morally, few would dare try, fearing the market censure.

But for Zuma’s ANC, these aren’t issues. The ANC will duck and dive, squiggle and squirm, because it just cannot afford to cover ANCYL debts, what with every resource needed for a tough general election that is less than a year away. And in a post-Mandela era morality is infinitely flexible: all those ANCYL millions evaporated but no one in the parent or youth body seems to want to find out why, how or where to.


William Saunderson-Meyer

William Saunderson-Meyer

This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day....

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