ANC Youth League wields its power

Regarded by some as troublemakers and courted by others as kingmakers, the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) has been basking in the limelight as its hero Jacob Zuma closes in on the nation’s presidency.

Julius Malema, the youth wing’s leader, was this week gloating that his group played a key role in the downfall of president Thabo Mbeki, who was forced resign at the weekend after a judge threw out a corruption case against Zuma.

An interim national president is to be appointed on Thursday. But the way is now clear for Zuma to become head of Africa’s economic powerhouse after elections scheduled early next year.

“The ANC Youth League celebrates the fact that the decision to recall President Mbeki was influenced by our organisation,” Malema told reporters this week. “The ANC Youth League is not ashamed of its capacity to influence decisions in the ANC.”

The league has about 370 000 members and claims to represent millions of young black South Africans who face poor standards of education and little chance of finding a job.
But critics say its leaders are more interested in advancing their own political careers.

The brash and bombastic Malema—known for his taste for expensive clothes—dismissed claims that the party was trying to rein him in amid alarm over recent inflammatory statements.

“There is no one in the ANC that can tell us what to do,” Malema said.

The ANCYL, along with key ANC allies such as the trade unions and the South African Communist Party, have been Zuma’s staunchest supporters. They rallied around Zuma after Mbeki fired him in 2005 over a bribery scandal, and have kept up an aggressive campaign since.

They have played on dissatisfaction with Mbeki’s aloofness and pro-market policies and accused him of abusing state power to stop Zuma becoming president.

At a key party conference in December they ran roughshod over anti-apartheid veterans and engineered Zuma’s takeover of the ANC presidency from Mbeki. Two weeks ago, when a judge found that Mbeki may have interfered in Zuma’s prosecution, the league was first to make a loud call for the president to be ousted.

Malema has grabbed headlines by vowing to “eliminate” anything blocking Zuma’s path to the presidency. He has refused to apologise for saying he would kill for Zuma.

When ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe—tipped to be South Africa’s interim leader this week—called his comments reckless, Malema derided him as a “paragon of political correctness”.

New life
The 29-year-old former student movement leader sees himself as following in the footsteps of former president Nelson Mandela, one of the founders of the Youth League in 1944. Mandela and another anti-apartheid icon, Walter Sisulu, were behind the ouster of ANC president Alfred Xuma in 1949.

“Part of our work is to keep the ANC in line and to inject new life into it,” Malema said.

Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi does not feel the young Turks should be feeling quite so satisfied with themselves.

“They are definitely loud and there is definitely a coincidence between their desires and how events have turned out. But it is mere coincidence,” he said.

While the league does carry some clout, Matshiqi believes that it is the pro-Zuma coalition as a whole—of which the ANCYL is a part—that holds the key to power.

“It is because of that coalition that Zuma is ANC president and so close to the gates of the Union Buildings,” he said.

But he acknowledged that trying to muzzle the youth leaders may be politically disastrous.

“Keeping the coalition is critical until he has the key to the Union Buildings,” Matshiqi said. “And Zuma won’t want to fracture that coalition” by publicly criticising Malema and his organisation.

Another analyst, William Gumede, thinks more moderate voices will prevail in the future.

“They are going now to want to show that they can govern and will gravitate toward more moderation and try to rein in more militant groups,” said Gumede.—Sapa-AP

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