ANC's young lions: Courting controversy

Since it was first banned by the apartheid government in 1960, through the advent of democracy in 1994 to the present day, the African National Congress Youth League has been dogged by controversy after controversy.

With the league due to meet in Johannesburg from June 16 to 20 to elect new leadership, the Mail & Guardian rounds up a few of these controversies ahead of its national conference.

Peter Mokaba: 1987-1993
Mokaba made headlines in 1993 for his “kill the farmer, kill the boer” chant during a memorial rally in Cape Town, displaying his anger at the murder of South African Communist Party (SACP) leader Chris Hani. Mokaba also said HIV/Aids was an “international Western plot” that was being used to try to regain control over Africa.

Lulu Johnson: President, 1994-1996
Lulu Johnson seemed to preside over a decline in the league’s power in the 1990s.
In 1995, the M&G reported on the possible break down of populist cliques within the ANC, which included the youth league. Johnson was apparently judged harshly by his colleagues during this time, and has since been cast out into political obscurity, if not oblivion.

Malusi Gigaba: President, 1996-2004
Starting out as a student activist, Gigaba was elected three times to lead the youth league—in 1996, 1998 and 2001. One of the biggest talking points around his leadership was the ANCYL’s support for former president Thabo Mbeki’s decision to accept an honorary degree from Johannesburg’s Rand Afrikaans University (RAU) in 1999, during his term as deputy president. The ANC-aligned South African Student Congress had said that RAU, which was a whites-only university during apartheid, had not been transformed. Gigaba said the league supported Mbeki’s acceptance of the doctorate as “he must point out issues of transformation and the role of white institutions in the ‘African renaissance’ in his speech. If Mbeki does not accept the honorary degree, that is not going to help to transform RAU.”

Although Gigaba managed to make it through his term at the league’s helm and into the ANC, there was talk that his third election as president of the league would gain Jacob Zuma his, and subsequently the league’s, support had Zuma challenged Mbeki for the party’s presidency at that time. Rumours of a plot to overthrow Mbeki were rife in 2001, which resulted in speculation of who would be in the “Mbeki camp” and the “Zuma camp”.

Fikile Mbalula: President, 2005-2008
Fikile Mbalula was a year away from stepping down as the youth league’s president when he remarked on the racial composition of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, which drew criticism and anger from university staff, students and even ruling party members. Many accused him of making racist and xenophobic remarks after he said transformation had turned tertiary education institutions into “nothing but Bombay”, saying that “you can think it’s an exclusive university of Indians only” if you visited the university. Anger from the public intensified after the comments made were not backed up by statistics, which showed that 53% of students were African, 31% Indian, 13% white and 3% coloured at the time.

In December 2007, Mbalula made a bold statement regarding Mbeki’s resignation as party president: “Mbeki was made by the youth league and was removed by the youth league. That is how strong the youth league is,” he said, drawing laughter from press conference attendees. Mbeki resigned as president of the country in September 2008 after being recalled by the ANC’s national executive council, and was replaced by party deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe until Zuma was elected South Africa’s president in the May 2009 general elections.

Mbalula made another statement at the end of 2007 that brought him much media attention, calling then finance minister Trevor Manuel an “attention-seeking drama queen”. This was in response to a letter by Manuel to Zuma’s former adviser Mo Shaik. Shaik said Manuel could be in the Zuma Cabinet should he change his macroeconomic approach, which Manuel rebuked. He also called Mbalula “the other self-appointed spokesperson of the national democratic revolution”.

Just before leaving the youth league in 2008, Mbalula managed to ruffle more feathers by saying former University of South Africa rector Barney Pityana was making “a clown of himself” regarding comments he’d made about Zuma.

“Yet again, some Professor Pityana has made a clown of himself by his overzealous confusion and comical postulations about the ANC president and the ANC leadership,” he said, after Pityana had said Zuma failed to inspire confidence during his first few months at the party’s helm.

Floyd Shivambu: Spokesperson 2008-2011
Although Floyd Shivambu was never president of the youth league, as its spokesperson since June 2008 he has been its voice.

In March 2010 Shivambu taunted the media by threatening to reveal information about political journalists, including bank account details and personal information. While his threat was widely criticised, the youth league spokesperson refused to back down. “Freedom of expression does not mean that it is only the media that must write nonsensical allegations about political leaders,” he said. A formal complaint was lodged, and the youth league replied to the “mob of concerned journalists”, saying they were reacting immaturely and the league would not “retreat from its programme to expose the possible corruption and tax fraud of any person in South Africa”.

The list of journalists included M&Greporter Mandy Rossouw who had recently written a story aboutthe ANCYL attempting to weaken ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe .

Shivambu laid a complaint with the press ombudsman on behalf of the league against the M&G regarding that article, which resulted in a dismissal. Read the complaint and ruling here.

In the same year, Shivambu was suspended for calling the SACP’s deputy general secretary, Jeremy Cronin, a racist and a reactionary for scorning the idea of nationalisation of mines. “Why a communist cadre in the form of Jeremy Cronin refuses to constructively input into the nationalisation of mines perspective even when humbly requested to is worrying. But as they say, blood is thicker than water,” Shivambu said.

In 2011 Shivambu was taken to the Equality Court by journalist Carien du Plessis after he called her “stupid” and a “white bitch” in SMS’s. The youth league said these allegations were lies and evidence “once again [of] agitation through the media to spread lies against the leadership of the ANCYL”.

Julius Malema: President, 2009-2011
The league’s current leader enjoys a certain notoriety for making contentious remarks, the likes of which have without fail propelled him into the national headlines, such as calling for South Africa to “kill for Zuma”. With an assault charge laid against him by a neighbour in Sandton and an observation that black DA followers were just “garden boys” who spent their time smiling at the “madam”—referring to Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille—Malema cemented his character as a firebrand and created an extensive list of “Malemaisms”.

A year later, BBC journalist Jonah Fisher was called a “bastard, bloody agent” with “white tendencies” at a press conference after Fisher interjected during Malema’s speech in the “revolutionary” Luthuli House.

Malema’s emphatic singing of the chant “dubul’ ibhunu” (“shoot the boer” in Zulu) was cited as hate speech against Afrikaners and farmers by activist group AfriForum. Even though AfriForum’s fight to have the lyrics declared hate speech by the Equality Court, Malema continues to give live performances of the song.

The repeated call for the nationalisation of mines by the youth league under Malema’s leadership was reinforced after he visited Zimbabwe and Venezuela to study their success stories. He recently said that it was no longer “if”, but rather how the ANC would implement the policy.

The youth league’s call for Twitter to be shut down after a series of fake accounts were opened on the microblogging site in the names of youth league members, was mocked by the public rather than taken seriously. However, the league decided to give the social networking tool a chance and opened a legitimate account for the ANCYL.

Malema’s controversies have continued much as they began, with racially charged statements aimed at black DA members and leaders, as evidenced by his recent reference to the opposition party’s spokesperson Lindiwe Mazibuko as “Madame” Zille’s “tea girl”.

For the latest on the ANC Youth League conference click here:

Deshnee Subramany

Deshnee Subramany

Deshnee Subramany is our loudest employee. After slogging through various positions in marketing, advertising, radio – and a cow suit – Deshnee finally found her way to the M&G as a content producer in 2010, and was then forced to grow up by filling the position of day editor of the website. Sometimes she puts on her radio voice and guest-hosts the M&G Newsroom.If she was a superhero she would be called the Feeding Frenzy. Her passion is South African politics and revolutions. This comrade loves setting her world alight by discovering new ideas and people, and isn't afraid to laugh the loudest. Read more from Deshnee Subramany

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