ANCYL conference: A promise of better behaviour

How is the youth league going to ensure that the unbecoming behaviour displayed by delegates at the 2008 congress does not repeat itself?

Outgoing ANCYL secretary general Vuyiswa Tulelo discusses her tenure and the legacy she has left behind—as a wife, a mother, and a rising political star.
The problem at the 2008 congress was a political problem. It was a problem of a lack of political consciousness and understanding by the delegates who participated at the congress. Most of them were very new in the ANC Youth League.
They came from a culture of clubs and societies on campus, or social clubs in the community. We resolved that we are going to ensure that the political consciousness of our membership is heightened.

Our national general council bore testimony to the level of political consciousness and maturity of delegates that were there. We want to step it up in this congress. This congress is not just about elections, it’s not just about leadership. It’s about a programme of action, and the behaviour of our delegates is going to be the one thing that distinguishes us from a political home for young people or a group of friends that has just met at a gathering and spent a few days together.

League president Julius Malema has expressed fears that some senior ANC leaders were plotting to disrupt the congress to install an interim leadership?
In the past three years the voice of the youth league has become not just a critical part of the ANC discourse, but has become one of those defining parts. Our understanding of our relationship with the ANC is not a lovers’ relationship—it is based on commending them when they do good on youth development, but telling them when they underperform. If we don’t tell them, who’s going to tell them? A lot of people got a bit unsettled with our frankness and our forwardness. It was not meant to be disrespectful, it was taking our responsibility as a political preparatory school of the ANC very seriously.

There were leaders of the ANC who started worrying that if this type of leadership came into office and started a new mandate before 2012, you could only imagine what type of pronouncements they were going to come up with. They started asking how they could avoid that. Some of them even came to me and asked: ‘Vuyiswa, why don’t you delay the congress? Why are you in such a hurry?” In the last 10 years this is the first congress to sit on time. But the ANC definitely does not have the responsibility to choose our leadership. The youth league has got that privilege.

Your discussion documents propose a takeover of mines and land without compensation. Are you not concerned that this might chase away foreign investors?
When we speak of this expropriation without redress we’re not saying we’re not mindful of what owners are going to say. Truth must be told—we have been more than generous. We have given you 20 years to further enrich yourselves, now it’s time to meet the promises we made to our people. We’re not saying we don’t value their contribution, but we have bent over backwards trying to make them understand what we want.

Will this not lead to a situation like that in Zimbabwe?
Absolutely not. We are not speaking about land grabs. The government of South Africa has got to take stock of how far we’ve gone with land distribution. We believe in South Africa that the only people who must have a conscience are the Africans. The Africans must understand that investors will run away, the Africans must understand that you’re going to be accused of Zimbabwe-style land distribution, the Africans must understand that it is right for them to continue living in poverty. What about the others? When are they going to understand? Is it not time to ask the difficult questions, to ask: ‘This ­reconciliation and nation-building, is it a one-way street?”

Are you not worried about the state’s capacity to run the mines?
The business of the state is not to run mines, but to own them. We want the state to find the skills. We need the skills of these very people who are making profits in mines now.

Does the youth league stand by its position that any ANC leader who does not support nationalisation is unlikely to get its support for re-election at the party’s conference next year?
We have proven it with ANC documents that the ANC has had nationalisation on its agenda. It kept moving to say outright nationalisation is maybe not a good idea. The government of South Africa does not have nationalisation as a policy position, but our ultimate objective is to get the government of South Africa to adopt nationalisation as a policy.

There has been speculation that the youth league is unlikely to support the re-election of President Jacob Zuma and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe in 2012. Is this something that has been discussed internally?
At no point have we ever discussed the replacement of President Jacob Zuma. In the youth league, when we’re unhappy about some things that he does, we will say so. Not because we’re disrespecting him, but to say ‘here you’re not going by the way that you brought us up’. A case in point is the United Nations’ vote on Libya. We did not understand because for us it’s a direct contradiction of what we’ve been taught in the ANC about our relationship with Africa and the world as a whole. We raised that matter with the president of the ANC. We raised the issue of the public-private life of the president and how sometimes it compromises us as young people.

Our membership seeks answers from us. As Vuyiswa how do I respond about the public-private life of the president of the ANC? I need to raise those issues with him, one on one, and say: ‘Baba kodwa kunzinyana la [it’s a bit difficult here], I don’t have an answer for this one.” That does not mean we don’t want the president of the ANC. That does not mean that we’ve resolved that we’ve got a problem with the president of the ANC, in the same way that we’ve said to the secretary general that the way [he] drives the organisation does not give us the sense of feeling that we all belong to the ANC.

Rightly or wrongly, sometimes [because of] the way you do things, you find people who criticise you will ask: ‘Ngumuntu kabani? [Where’s this person coming from?]” Does it mean that we don’t want the secretary general? The predecessor of Mantashe is a very difficult person to succeed. Kgalema [Motlanthe] has got an ear for every single person on the street in South Africa. The youth league got spoiled that the former secretary general would not wait for us to invite him. He would walk up to the seventh floor. Yes, we’re struggling to adapt to the new style of leadership, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t want the secretary general. We are merely saying to him: ‘Hai Tata, we don’t feel this relationship.”

Do you believe that the ANC Women’s League should be playing a more effective role than it is playing in society now?
Oh yes. I don’t understand why the secretary general of the ANC has to go and debate on local government with Helen Zille when there’s a sitting president of the women’s league. Zille in this local government election just took the principle of the ANC of gender equality and made it her own. The women’s league could not step up to the challenge. It is there where the women’s league is supposed to shine. We have the president of the women’s league who is the minister of basic education, but you don’t feel that you have a mother and the needs of the kids are being taken care of.

What are the achievements and failures for you and fellow leaders since you were elected in 2008?
The struggle today is no longer about political freedom, it’s about economic participation. We would have loved to do more in ensuring that young people access economic emancipation, but unfortunately we have only three years in our tenure and we did the best we could. We would have liked to do more in saying that access to higher education must become more entrenched, as opposed to a luxury that is only available to those who’ve got the money.

We’re not complaining—it’s an opportunity for us because it pushes us and makes sure that we’re not sitting in our comfort zone. In the time that was allocated to us we did what we could—we have implemented 95% of the resolutions we took in Mangaung.

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Matuma Letsoalo is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003, focussing on politics and labour, and collaborated with the M&G's centre for investigations, amaBhungane, from time to time.In 2011, Matuma won the South African Journalist of the Year Award and was also the winner in the investigative journalism category in the same year.In 2004, he won the CNN African Journalist of the Year prize – the MKO Abiola Print Journalism Award. Matuma was also a joint category winner of the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the year Award in 2008. In 2013, he was a finalist for Wits University's Taco Kuiper Award.
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      Matuma Letsoalo is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003, focussing on politics and labour, and collaborated with the M&G's centre for investigations, amaBhungane, from time to time.In 2011, Matuma won the South African Journalist of the Year Award and was also the winner in the investigative journalism category in the same year.In 2004, he won the CNN African Journalist of the Year prize – the MKO Abiola Print Journalism Award. Matuma was also a joint category winner of the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the year Award in 2008. In 2013, he was a finalist for Wits University's Taco Kuiper Award.
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