African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma on Sunday laid down the law for the ANC Youth League at the organisation’s national congress in Johannesburg, taking his toughest stance yet against members of the league.
Referring to the ANCYL’s ”highly emotional” Mangaung conference in April, Zuma said: ”It was shocking to see how far and to what extremes most delegates were prepared to go to have their preferred candidates elected.”
The Mangaung encounter turned into a mini battlefield with rival factions exchanging blows and throwing bottles at each other, amid a tense leadership battle.
Zuma was speaking on the closing day of the Johannesburg event, which is a continuation of the Mangaung conference.
”What we saw there [Mangaung] was disappointing, to say the least,” said Zuma. ”You treated each other as almost enemies rather than as fellow ANC Youth League comrades. You were prepared to even embarrass this glorious youth movement in front of the whole country and the international guests that you had invited.”
He said it was improper for ANCYL members to have carried coffins bearing the names of other members, or to have ”howled” at speakers with whom they disagreed.
On the infamous buttocks-flashing incident at Mangaung that made headlines, Zuma said: ”It is not proper to undress in front of a conference when election results are announced, no matter how you feel about the outcome. Such behaviour must stop!”
However, he believes the league has learnt important lessons from that conference and applied these to the Johannesburg event. The ANCYL issued strict rules to delegates for the current congress, including a ban on alcohol and public nudity.
Looking back at the origins of the ANC, Zuma evoked the name of Pixley ka Isaka Seme, who brought a message of unity among South Africa’s ethnic groups — and among Africans — to the birth of the party. That message is still valid today, said Zuma.
”Let us honour his memory and legacy by ensuring that South Africa is a country which is tolerant of all Africans from the continent and the diaspora. Let us stand firm against xenophobic tendencies. That is why we should not keep quiet when things are going wrong in Zimbabwe, because we might be regarded as accomplices as we keep quiet.”
On Saturday, it was reported that President Thabo Mbeki had blocked a United Nations Security Council move to declare Friday’s Zimbabwean run-off election illegitimate. President Robert Mugabe was the only candidate in the poll after the opposition had withdrawn a week earlier.
Mentioning illustrious former ANCYL leaders such as Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, William Nkomo, Govan Mbeki and Robert Maji, Zuma saluted their vision.
The league has been the lifeblood of the ANC, he said, playing a ”critical and pivotal” role in shaping the direction and vision of the ANC — starting with the militant programme of action of 1949, which transformed the party into a militant movement of mass mobilisation.
Since then, each generation of ANCYL had its own challenges to face. ”For you to be taken as seriously as Pixley ka Isaka Seme was, or any of the founding fathers and mothers of the league, you have to start now to chart your legacy,” Zuma told delegates.
Importantly, members must deal with discipline. ”Before you do anything, ask yourself a critical question: Is my behaviour befitting of an ANC Youth League cadre?”
Though there will always be divergent views in the ANC, ”what is important is how you express those differences”, said Zuma.
Once the organisation has taken decisions, they are binding even to those who did not advocate them, he said. ”We must fight against the liberalism that is permeating the youth league as experienced at your last conference.”
The current league must concern itself with challenges such as unemployment, battling poverty, youth development and crime, he said. ”For as long as our people live in fear of violent crime, when women are raped and children are abused, when our elderly are abused, the youth league has a lot of work to do.”
Also, the league must work to swell the ranks of the ANC as the 1976 youth generation did 32 years ago, said Zuma.
”Education is the key to meaningful socio-economic transformation,” Zuma added, saying it should be a central focus — from mathematics, science and IT education to the eradication of mud schools and adult literacy.
Lastly, he said, ”I cannot leave this podium before stressing the importance of the role of the youth in combating the spread of HIV and Aids.” The league must send out a ”clear and unambiguous” message on HIV/Aids, emphasising the ABC strategy — abstinence, being faithful and the use of condoms.
Policy discussions at the Johannesburg congress have been dealing with such topics as social transformation (including condom programmes), harnessing the potential of the ”born free” generation, and ensuring that the youth benefit from government procurement and job creation.
”If the ANC Youth League of today can deal with these issues and respond in the affirmative, it will remain relevant to the majority of the youth and will have carved its own niche like the other generations before this period. It will have as much impact as the youth generation of 1944,” Zuma said.
”Work begins after this congress, and we know you are up to the task!”
ANCYL leader Julius Malema was due to address delegates on Sunday afternoon.