Leaders of the pack

Zodidi Mhlana profiles the top five leaders of the ANC Youth League.

An architect of future South Africa
Julius Malema (27)
ANCYL president, hails from Limpopo

At 27 years old, this is a young man who will be an architect of a future South Africa. This is not only because he is the president of the youth league, but also because he is extremely strong-willed and determined to stamp his own identity on the league.

He is a powerful but arrogant man. Two examples: he called on Limpopo Premier Sello Moloto to resign, and has refused to apologise for his statement that “we will kill and die for Jacob Zuma”.

He has created a firestorm and forced the South African Human Rights Commission into a near court case. Malema has vowed never to use the word “kill” again, but he has not apologised.

Malema is a neat but not snappy dresser and seems quite determined to take the bling out of the league. He will push for Lembede Investments, the league’s business arm, to be unwound.

A militant, Malema led a students’ march through Johannesburg in 2002, the looting and violence of which is still well remembered. He is studying communications at Unisa and he matriculated from Seshego High School in Limpopo. As ANC president Jacob Zuma makes his bid for the presidency of the country, Malema is going to be a key member of his inner circle.


  • A former youth league secretary for Limpopo, Malema won a highly contested race for ANCYL president against Saki Mofokeng from the Free State at the league’s conference in April this year.
  • At the age of 10, Malema became politically active through the “Young Pioneers”, as they were known in the early 1990s.
  • He joined the league at the tender age of 14 and was elevated to the leadership position in 1995 as the league’s branch chairperson in Seshego, near Polokwane.
  • In the same year he was elected as the regional chairperson of the Capricorn region in Polokwane. Thereafter his rise to national politics was meteoric.
  • In 1997 he became the provincial chairperson of the Congress of South African Students (Cosas), and was elected president of Cosas at this very venue in 2001.

Passionate, organised
Steven Ngobeni (31)
Deputy secretary general, hails from Delmas in Mpumalanga

This young man is described as humble and well-organised. In his day job he is the municipal manager of Delmas in Mpumalanga.

Of the league, he says: “It is the only home for young politicians, it is the only organisation that can teach politics, not violence, and it cares about youth development.”

To grow its membership, the league must educate young people. “We need intensive political education; we need to address the issues of under-development and job creation, and to create opportunity within the league.”

An intellectual, Ngobeni has completed a proposal for his PhD. The topic? Youth development.


  • Joined Cosas in primary school as a young pioneer for Botleng.
  • After the unbanning of the ANC, he joined the youth league.
  • He was the deputy chair of the ANC’s Delmas branch.
  • Was a regional executive committee member of the league for the Nkangala region, a post he held for six years.
  • Led the South African Youth Council as a representative for Mpumalanga.
  • Holds a degree in town and regional planning from the University of Johannesburg
  • Holds an MSC in built environment studies from Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth.

At the centre of the funding debate
Pule Mabe (28)
Treasurer general, hails from Phalaborwa, Limpopo

Pule Mabe is a former colleague. He started his journalism career at the Mail & Guardian but has moved on to better things.

Friends say that Mabe is a stylista who drives that de rigueur car of the big BEEs — a black X5. He is a married with two children.

It’s a good thing that Mabe has left the relatively poorly paid world of journalism; as treasurer general, he will have to be on his toes to ensure that the league’s books are liquid.

In addition, he will be at the centre of the debate about how the league will raise funds: through traditional sponsorships and the like or through Lembede ­Investments.


  • Mabe is a published author — of Koko, a book about his grandmother.
  • A former member of the Gauteng Youth Development Commission, which led the enactment of the Gauteng Youth Act.
  • In the mid-Nineties he served as the chairperson of the Namakgale in the Limpopo Youth Development Forum. He led a range of developmental initiatives, including awareness campaigns and capacity-building programmes. He was student representative council president at his high school in Limpopo.
  • He served as the deputy president of the SRC at Technikon Northern Gauteng in 1999 and 2000, and was a member of the national executive committee of the South African Technikon Students’ Union.
  • As an aspirant journalist, he was editor-in-chief of a campus newspaper, TNT Update, and has completed a national diploma in journalism.
  • His alma mater was the M&G and he later joined government as a spokesperson for social development. Prior to joining the league full-time, he was a spokesperson for Metrorail.
  • As an entrepreneur, he maximised the involvement of young people in the construction of Randfontein taxi rank. He still works with organisations for young people in the West Rand.
  • He is currently studying for a master’s degree in business administration from the Management College of Southern Africa.

Passionate about change
Andile Lungisa (29)
Deputy president, hails from Tsomo, Eastern Cape, currently lives in Port Elizabeth

A stylish man of the world, this young politician is going places. Don’t be surprised if he turns up as a premier candidate for the Eastern Cape quite soon. He is a playwright and poet who has been published in various places. He works in the creative industries in the province.

Lungisa is passionate about change. “I want to bring change to our society. There are so many challenges that are facing young people out there — HIV/Aids, unemployment and poverty. The youth league is the organisation that represents the young people, and it gives them a platform to share their views. We have programmes for making sure that young people see issues broadly,” he says.

Discipline is a key imperative in the league and Lungisa says: “We need to make sure everyone respects the values of the organisation. We have the responsibility of making sure that young people’s level of consciousness is high.”

In the run-up to the Polokwane conference last year, he was a strategist who helped ensure that the Eastern Cape, vital in the ruling party, split Thabo Mbeki’s vote in this heartland.


  • Born and bred in Tsomo in the Eastern Cape.
  • He became active in politics at 14 through the South African Students Congress (Sasco) in the early 1990s. After being recruited by Sasco, he was elected chairperson of the region, which includes Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown.
  • In 1998 he started an ANC Youth League branch in the western suburbs of Port Elizabeth called City Central, and became a branch executive.
  • In 2001 he was elected deputy chairperson of the league’s Nelson Mandela region and was chosen as deputy president this year in Mangaung. He played a formative role in the disbandment of this region and he is now part of the team tasked with rebuilding this heartland of the league.
  • He is also a member of the regional executive of the ANC in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Assertive and strong
Vuyiswa Tulelo (32)
Secretary general, hails from Kimberley

Undoubtedly the star of the show, Vuyiswa Tulelo is a strong organisational hand. Observers describe her as assertive and strong; others say she is ambitious and highly articulate.

On the weekend, she displayed her commitment to hard work: she wore practical tracksuits all conference long. At work at Luthuli House, her style is more Afro-centric cum Erykah Badu. Some have admired her elegant hands topped by manicured nails: her one concession to girliness. We like it.

Tulelo is married and the proud mum of a baby girl who possibly has not seen a lot of her mother. Tulelo has been extremely busy ensuring that the league puts on a productive conference without shenanigans.

A firecracker, Tulelo is the only woman in the top leadership of the league. An organiser and strategist at heart, she was previously deputy secretary and a national executive member of the league.


  • Like Malema, she was a leader of Cosas and led the organisation in the Northern Cape. An organic leader, she was also deputy chair of the league in the Northern Cape from 1995 to 1997.
  • Tulelo was also actively involved in student politics and led the students’ representative council at Wits University between 1999 and 2000.
  • In February this year she was elected vice-president of the International Union of Socialist Youth. While she was a student, she served as part of the leadership of the South African Students’ Congress (Sasco).
  • She holds a BA (Politics) from Wits and she is a board member of the Umsobomvu Youth Fund.
  • In 2004 Tulelo was elected deputy chairperson of the National Youth Commission. She was also a teacher at the women’s section of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
  • She celebrates her birthday on July 17 and will be 33 years old next month.

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