Young Lions brace for the wrath of the ANC
It will be a rough start to 2013 for the ANC Youth League as it will be forced to replace its controversial former president Julius Malema and face a review of the league's role within the party.
Ronald Lamola, current deputy president of the youth league, told the Mail & Guardian, "We'll fill all vacancies as soon as possible."
"It is undesirable for the body to be left without people in key positions – especially a president."
Lamola's comments mark a sharp turn away from the league's belligerent stance of rejecting Malema's ousting from the ANC, but the youth body has been left with little choice.
The party's newly elected national executive committee (NEC) was mandated at the ANC's Mangaung elective conference in December to rehabilitate the relationship between the youth league and its mother body.
The M&G understands the review will compel the youth body to "fall into line" if it is to have any future in the ANC and the league will have to appoint a new president, as well as stop all antagonistic behaviour towards the party.
"We need to take firm decisions so that we have a youth league that knows how to function and that forms an integral part of the ANC," Jackson Mthembu, ANC spokesperson, told the M&G on Monday.
This firm line offers little space for the youth league – which is normally defined by militancy and defiance – to shape its own future and it seems to be accepting the fact.
"The ANC is allowed to do this and even has a responsibility to do so," said Lamola. "All structures must implement congress resolutions, so if that is what must happen, then so be it."
Though it may be a bitter pill to swallow for many league members and supporters, this clampdown has been long time in the making.
Malema's expulsion from the ANC – after being found guilty of sowing divisions within the party – might have only been finalised in late April 2012, but the prickly relations between the league and the ANC became evident early on during the Jacob Zuma presidency.
The league criticised Zuma's Cabinet appointments soon after his inauguration as South Africa's president, arguing there were not enough black Africans designated to strategic ministerial posts.
It marked the beginning of an awkward and often tumultuous relationship between the ANC and its youth league, often characterised by public spats. It eventually culminated in Malema's expulsion and the current predicament the youth body is in.
Refusing to appoint anyone to positions left open after Malema, former spokesperson Floyd Shivambu, and secretary general Sindiso Magaqa's ousting, the league is without people in key leadership positions and has no functional NEC.
While there was a firm decision to reject Malema's expulsion and back the controversial leader in the hopes he would be reinstated, name-calling and infighting left severed ties between Malema and Lamola in the run-up to the ANC's electoral conference.
"It's plain for everyone to see that the executive structures of the league are not in order, and [that] needs to rectified as a matter of urgency," Mthembu said.
He added there would be three areas the NEC would focus on when assessing the league in the new year, namely:
- Mending fractured relations between the ruling party and the youth league;
- Evaluating the league's functions as an organ of the ANC; and
- Formalising structures and leadership positions within the league
"It became evident from the political report and organisational report delivered in Mangaung that things needed to change and we need to arrest the hostility between the ANC and the league," he said.
This course of action suggests the role of the league would be significantly altered.
But Mthembu would not elaborate on the specifics of the NEC's three-point plan, but said "it will be sorted out in the new year".
Unofficially though, the league could be in for a bigger change than the plan Mthembu touted.
"The league cannot operate in opposition to the ANC, regardless of how they feel about where the movement is headed. They are the juniors and should act like it," one NEC member – who requested anonymity – told the M&G.
The source – along with several others – informed the M&G that the Zuma-aligned NEC elected in Mangaung would "deal with the league".
"We need to look at it all. The league must fall into line or expect the same fate as Malema," another source said.
One man ideally placed to lead the re-evaluation of the league would be newly elected NEC member Pule Mabe.
The devout Zuma supporter was re-elected alongside Malema as the youth league's treasurer at its 2011 elective conference in Midrand.
Said to be in favour of Malema's expulsion, Mabe was dumped from his position in May 2012 and it wouldn't be implausible to see him wanting to settle a few scores this year.
But Lamola – who has been acting president of the league since Malema's demise – said that whatever action was taken by the ANC, the league would fight for a certain level of independence.
"The ANC should still allow the league and its structures to operate as an autonomous organisation. This is what has happened historically and should continue," he added.
If anything, while the future of the league might still be unclear, Lamola's comments in the aftermath of Mangaung make it certain the Malema era of the ANC Youth League is well and truly over.