The rise and fall of Anele Mda

Think back to this time last year. The political landscape was a different animal altogether. Former African National Congress (ANC) heavyweight Mosiuoa Lekota had just served “divorce papers” after a bitter leadership struggle left the party divided.

For a moment, it seemed as if a real alternative to the monolith ANC was at hand.

And with public dislike of ANC Youth League’s (ANCYL) Julius Malema at a new high, the appearance of the relatively unknown Anele Mda beside Lekota at his national convention on November 1 2008 was hailed as a breath of fresh air.

So dire was the youth leadership vacuum in the country that anybody who represented an alternative would have been praised. But Mda, then 30, with her community-work credentials, feisty stand and preaching on humility and the need to focus on youth issues, was gobbled up by the media.

“Malema meets his match: Mda, new voice of youth,” announced one national newspaper. She was characterised as bright, energetic, articulate and—finally—humble. Her previous membership of the ANCYL was not focused on so much as was her criticism of her former colleagues.

But within a month Mda’s shiny veneer started showing cracks. Her public statements caused increasing headaches for her already ailing party.

She was officially suspended by the Congress of the People (Cope) in September 2009 after an alleged vitriolic attack on a fellow Cope member that put her at least in the same league as her nemesis Malema.

We track the rise and fall of this might-have-been leader through quotes from the media and the woman herself.

  • Anele Mda, November 1 2008: “We are here for all young South Africans who seek to identify a role they can play. The youth is, after all, the future leaders of our country.”
  • Dispatch Online—November 3 2008: “Most speakers at the convention commended her for not attacking individuals, as has become the norm in politics lately, instead delivering a message of hope that appealed to all races.”
  • Anele Mda, November 1 2008: “I am not afraid to tell the truth, no matter who it is. It is not about being outspoken, it’s about defending the truth.”

  • Julius Malema

  • Times Live, November 3 2008: “Anele Mda (30) says she is the opposite of the ANC Youth League firebrand president, as she was brought up by a grandfather who taught her humility and respect.”
  • Anele Mda, early November 2008: “The ANC Youth League is nothing else but an organ of all those people who want to position themselves to ensure their enrichment, privilege and interests through patronage.”
  • Anele Mda, November 11 2008: “I don’t spend a lot of my time thinking about Malema, but when I see his behaviour I think it’s as simple as a wild animal’s behaviour. There isn’t any domestic animal I liken Malema’s behaviour to because I’m going to do injustice to those animals.”

  • Jacob Zuma

  • November 21, 2008: Anele Mda at a Mthatha Cope rally called ANC President Jacob Zuma “a rapist” and said that if the ANC was re-elected into government under “President Zuma”, “rape would no longer be a criminal offence”.
  • Cope, November 25 2008: “The remarks by Ms Mda and Mr Madisha are withdrawn unconditionally and a full apology is extended to the president of the ANC and his party.”
  • Sowetan, December 4 2008: “Anele Mda has been gagged. On Tuesday Mda was supposed to appear in a debate with Young Communist League leader Buti Manamela on’s 3rd Degree. But Cope members told her to leave the studio because she had been replaced by Nqaba Bhanga.”
  • Anele Mda, February 10 2009: “It’s one thing to build a brand, but it’s another thing to sustain it,” she told the Mail & Guardian in response to queries about her imminent sacking from the job. “I’m leading the Cope Youth Movement, as the convener, the head, the face, the voice and the hands.”
  • Anele Mda, July 9 2009 on former election organiser Simon Grindrod’s resignation letter lambasting the party: “He has no interest in building this organisation, and Cope can’t be held to ransom by Simon [Grindrod]. Cope is bigger than him, it’s bigger than all of us.”
  • September 6 2009: Mda allegedly accused Cope deputy general secretary Deidre Carter of being a “token white stupid bitch” after a Cope meeting in Johannesburg.

  • Thabiso Tefo

  • IOL, September 22 2009: Mda has been suspended from Cope’s national executive as well as its working committee and has been stripped of her leadership of the youth wing. She will remain a Cope member of Parliament until the disciplinary process had been concluded.
  • Sapa, October 15 2009: Cope youth leader Anele Mda will remain suspended. She remains a MP and Cope member. She could not be active in any other leadership roles in the party pending disciplinary processes. Thabiso Tefo would become Cope’s acting youth leader.

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.  Read more from Verashni Pillay

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