“Sixteen years into democracy, our people are still suffering. Therefore we need to ensure that this period sees the full translation of who becomes owners of our mineral assets and economy. Our task is to ensure this happens under this generation,” ANC Youth League (ANCYL) spokesperson Magdalene Moonsamy told the Mail & Guardian on Tuesday.
The ANCYL, which celebrated its 66th anniversary in Stellenbosch on Saturday, says it will remain relevant as long as young people are exposed to injustice, something it predicts will happen for “the rest of the existence of humanity”.
“As long as young people are exposed to injustice there will always be a need for a voice. Our relevance is determined by the needs of the people,” Moonsamy told the M&G.
Formation of the youth league
When the ANCYL was formed in 1944, youth leaders declared that they were “laying their services at the disposal of the African National Congress, in the belief, knowledge and conviction that the cause of Africa must and will triumph”.
President Jacob Zuma reminded audience members in Stellenbosch, in the words of the first league president, Anton Lembede , in 1944: “The formation of the African National Congress Youth League is an answer and assurance to the critics of the national movement that the African youth will not allow the struggles and sacrifices of their fathers to have been in vain. Our fathers fought so that we, better equipped when our time came, should start and continue from where they stopped.”
During the league’s existence, its young leaders have included the likes of Nelson Mandela, Anton Lembede, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Jordan Ngubane and Robert Sobukwe.
During the president’s address, he said the ANC Youth League had never disappointed the ANC, “even during the most trying times during the struggle for liberation. The league was always there, providing ideas and initiating activities for the ANC in all phases of the struggle.”
According to South African History Online, Anton Muziwakhe Lembede, a former teacher, swapped professions in 1943 to become a lawyer. He moved to Johannesburg to serve articles under Dr Pixley ka-Isaka Seme, co-founder of the South African Native National Congress, which was later renamed the African National Congress (ANC).
Lembede was instrumental in the formation of the ANC Youth League, and was a member of the national provisional committee that was formed in 1944 to oversee the process of the formation of the ANCYL. The youth league was officially formed on September 10 1944, and Lembede became the youth league’s general president. He contributed to the drafting of the ANC Youth League ManifestoYouth League Manifesto before serving in various ANC positions. Two years later Lembede was seconded to the ANC national executive committee and national working committee under the leadership of Dr Alfred Bitini Xuma, a former ANC president in the 1940s.
Lembede is also regarded as the architect of the 1949 Programme of Action. According to Zuma, the Programme of Action “outlined the campaigns to be undertaken by the ANC, which contained many important elements which changed the character of the ANC”.
New struggle for the youth
Now that a new democratic order has been achieved, what struggles face the youth of today?
According to Moonsamy, the new struggle is very diverse, as challenges change daily.
“Today, young people are writing exams but they are exposed to drugs, alcohol and violence. Outside of HIV/Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases, there are numerous health challenges, unemployment and the challenge of poverty.”
During the celebrations in Stellenbosch, Zuma urged the youth not to lose the militancy, bravery and radicalism that characterised the youth league, especially during the struggle for freedom.
“We have attained freedom and democracy but the struggle continues on another realm, one that requires the same commitment and impetus that was demonstrated by the youth of 1944 — the struggle of attaining a better life for all,” Zuma said.
However, young South African Ayanda Ngidi said she believed there was a disconnect today between the youth league and the young people of South Africa.
“It doesn’t speak to me in anyway. I am not even aware of any projects it is tackling to assist the youth in South Africa. All I’ve heard from it is complaints and firing up the youth, but not doing anything after that,” she said.