Lembede: To go or stay?

While African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) president Julius Malema wants the organisation to sell all Lembede assets, valued at more than R120-million, secretary general Vuyiswa Tulelo believes this is too drastic a step. Instead, she believes Lembede should be used to benefit a broad base of members rather than an elite few as it has in the past. 

The contentious issue of the future of Lembede is not on the official agenda of the conference that kicked off on Friday at Nasrec in Johannesburg, but it is expected to be raised.

The ANCYL established Lembede in 2001 to generate income for the organisation, but it has become a road to riches for a few individuals who drive Porsches and hold some of the country’s top real estate. In addition, business dabbling has hurt the league’s reputation as it has also been embroiled in the unfolding scandal around the empire of late mining magnate Brett Kebble.

Malema takes a hard line, based both on ideology and on the fact that business dealings would hurt the independence of the league.
He has said: “I don’t think the youth league should be involved as an organisation in business because whatever statement you make, you are forced to consult Lembede to ascertain whether it would not compromise their business deals.

“If you do away with these activities, people will understand that being in the youth league does not mean you are going to be rich. We have existed as the youth league before without any investment arm. And we continue to exist in the provinces without investment arms.”

Malema argues that rather than relying on Lembede, the league needs to find a creative way to sustain itself.

Tulelo says the retention of Lembede will help the youth league finance some of its programmes.

“My view is that the ANC Youth League has got broader issues to deal with outside politics.
“There is an array of issues that affect young people and critical among them is propelling them into the mainstream of economic participation.

“You need to have tools to use to propel them into those avenues. We would want Lembede not only to be a vehicle for a selected few but a [also] vehicle that opens up opportunities for members throughout the country. It must have its footprint through the country but where members of the youth league will have ownership of it.

“So if there is a group of young people who take an interest in forestry and Lembede has information on that, it will be their responsibility to mobilise those young people, assist and create access for them through whatever knowledge it has gained over the years.”

Tulelo says Lembede should not be seen as an entity of five people who are sitting there working for themselves. It must be found where members of the youth league are. “We don’t want selfish capitalists. We want to create young people who are self-sufficient and sustainable.”

Sihle Zikalala, the former secretary general of the league, says the reality of modern political parties requires that the league have a sustainable source of funding.

“We should look at how to create space for sustainable strategy on fund­raising, and selling Lembede will not be sustainable for the league. It’s good to say we’ll raise money but it is a one-off thing, you’ll remain with nothing after that,” he argues.

Lembede holds shares in wide-ranging business ventures including mining, telecommunications, financial services and property.

Most of Lembede’s shares are in companies that benefit from government tenders. The league’s former treasurer general Phumezo Mgingwa recently told the Mangaung conference that Lembede’s assets were valued at R122-million and that the league had R205 195 in the bank.

A national executive member said that Lembede is a sticking point for the organisation that needs urgent attention.

“Lembede has always been a big problem for us because there were always people who were benefiting that we did not know about. Although the CEO of Lembede had to report back to every national executive meeting, it did not help the leadership to stay abreast of all its dealings.

“The CEO was part of all the leadership structures of the league but that didn’t help. Money still went around the back way, which we weren’t aware of. All the chief executives of Lembede came out of it richer than the organisation,” said the executive member.

The dissolution of Lembede is not necessarily the answer, the national executive committee member says.

“The problem with Julius’s approach is that he does not offer an alternative. He can’t just say that it must go but have nothing else. He wants to take the same view as [ANC treasurer general Mathews] Phosa that the ANC should not be in business.

“That is a good idea because there is no doubt that Lembede was used as a vehicle for comrades to amass personal wealth, but it also supplied the league with much-needed cash flow.

“The main source of funds for the youth league is the ANC, but Lembede is there to plug the holes. It is good to have that cash flow, because often we decide on a programme at the last minute and we don’t want to run to the ANC for money all the time. So Lembede is good for that. You are not going to make enough money selling tables at a fundraising dinner; you need find other creative ways ...”



Matuma Letsoalo is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003, focussing on politics and labour, and collaborated with the M&G's centre for investigations, amaBhungane, from time to time.In 2011, Matuma won the South African Journalist of the Year Award and was also the winner in the investigative journalism category in the same year.In 2004, he won the CNN African Journalist of the Year prize – the MKO Abiola Print Journalism Award. Matuma was also a joint category winner of the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the year Award in 2008. In 2013, he was a finalist for Wits University's Taco Kuiper Award.
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