The spectre of the ANC Youth League and its shambolic conferences cast a long shadow over the Young Communist League (YCL) last weekend.
At the YCL congress in Mahikeng, brawling young communists throwing chairs at one another were pepper-sprayed by police. The only difference between this gathering and the ANCYL’s riotous 2008 national conference was the colours worn by the delegates.
The police removal of delegates who supported Khaye Nkwanyana, Buti Manamela’s opponent for the position of national secretary, recalled Malema asking police to remove supporters of his ally Frans Moswane’s rival, Lehlogonolo Masoga.
Nkwanyana’s backers, perhaps a quarter of the delegates, were eventually locked outside the venue, with armed police barricading the entrance to ensure they were not readmitted.
The ANCYL congress of 2008 had to be reconvened at Nasrec after an earlier event in Mangaung descended into chaos, with delegates dropping their trousers and “mooning” journalists and the losing faction disputing the election results.
The YCL’s Mahikeng meeting provided further evidence that youth politics has deteriorated into little more than a crude power tussle. It was marked by similar attempts to manipulate voting, with allegations of ghost delegates and the introduction of new electoral rules that favoured one faction.
A Limpopo delegate showed the Mail & Guardian three tags, all with his correct name, ID number and province, but in different colours, that had been allocated to people unknown to him.
It was clear from the outset that Manamela commanded a healthy majority that would guarantee victory. But to claim that he was elected unopposed raises the question of how the minority who opposed his return to office for a third term suddenly vanished into thin air.
Manamela’s supporters commanded the majority in the YCL’s national committee and tweaked the rules of elections. The 33% threshold required for any nominee to stand was increased to 40%.
As the YCL constitution is silent on the threshold, the justification has been that the congress has always adopted election rules when it convenes.
As a result, Manamela’s opponents were annihilated without even getting a look-in.
Fears of infiltration by “external forces” — read ANC Youth League president Julius Malema and his group, who allegedly want to plant their supporters in the YCL — were a further lowlight of the congress.
“Did you hear that Julius was here [in Mahikeng] last night?” a YCL national committee member inquired anxiously. Highlighting the last day’s paranoia, a KwaZulu-Natal delegate called Nkwanyana’s supporters “agents that were deployed by liberals to take over the YCL”.
Whether Malema drove all the way to Mahikeng to bolster Nkwanyana’s campaign is doubtful, but the fact that YCL leaders were preoccupied with this possibility graphically demonstrates how youth organisations have declined into mere hunting grounds for position.
Manamela and his group were accused of playing “smart politics” by provoking Nkwanyana’s supporters into violence and then using their obviously unacceptable behaviour against them.
“They pushed us too far so that we revolted and they could find a reason to kick us out. We tried to be patient from the first day, but as a human being you’ve got limits. We did not know that we were playing right into their hands,” said a member of Nkwanyana’s lobby.
Manamela extended an olive branch to his detractors after the conference, saying that “at the end of the day we are all communists. There are no winners and there are no losers.”
Sounds familiar? He apparently had in mind Malema’s “apology” at the ANCYL’s national general council after Manamela was booed at a youth league gathering.
Why did the YCL leadership confidently call the Mahikeng gathering a national congress? Commissions were not convened to discuss policy issues and chart the way forward; delegates were not given the opportunity to discuss reports that had been tabled and one wonders how the constitutional requirement that the national secretary must serve full-time at the SACP head office was dealt with (Manamela is a member of Parliament).
A transparent constitutional amendment could have been passed only after recommendations by the commissions.
President Jacob Zuma pleaded with the Young Reds to heal “this disease” of violent conferences before the next one takes place. That is unlikely to happen — the disease is spreading like a cancer within the ANC and its allies.