ANC Youth League: Meet the lions vying to restore their pride

Nominations have yet to officially open for national leadership positions for the newly constituted ANC Youth League, but already three clear contenders have emerged.

And while those who have rebuilt the league were hoping to do away with the old leaders and bring in fresh blood, it seems it is set to be more of the same. All the contenders are either previous leaders of the league or the national task team.

Last year the Mail & Guardian reported that the task team was hoping to usher in new blood. “Some of us need to give way for younger generations,” said the task team’s spokesperson, Bandile Masuku. “The older generation like us somehow hamper innovation and dynamism. They hamper progress in a way that we tend to be very conservative.”

Despite an  arduous rebuilding process that involved dissolving practically all structures of the league and holding fresh structures across the board, it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Meet the top three contenders for the position of the youth league’s president when the league holds its elections in September this year.


Magasela Mzobe 

Mzobe (pictured on the right) is second in command as co-ordinator of the task team, which was put in place by the ANC in April 2013 to reconstitute the damaged organisation following former president Julius Malema’s term in office.

The names of those on the task team were announced in a press conference in April 2013, which took even some of the members of the team by surprise. Largely untested within the league’s senior leadership structures, the team is made up of low-profile youth league members, albeit ones who have proven themselves in other spheres and structures.

This has not come without challenges, as the task team has had to battle perceptions that they were alternately out of their depth or power-hungry.

Mzobe has borne the brunt of these criticisms since he reportedly put himself forward as a would-be contender for the league’s presidency. Sources in fellow hopeful Pule Mabe’s camp believe that Mzobe has little experience in league branches and a poor track record within his own branch’s activities.

There are also concerns that his role within the task team, which is overseeing the regional and provincial elections running up to the national election, has a disproportionate amount of influence over who will vote in the youth league’s president come September.

But Mzobe’s camp has hit back, pointing out that the ANC runs elections and audits and that it would be very difficult for him to control the process. And if the league needs new blood, Mzobe’s experience outside the organisation makes him fresher than the other contenders, who have all held senior positions in the league previously and were present during the worst of the rot that had to be cleaned out of the organisation.

Originally from Newcastle, Mzobe studied politics, philosophy and public administration at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where he obtained a BA in 2006, he told the M&G. He was elected president of the university’s student representative council in 2005.

Mzobe (33) previously served as the secretary general of South African Student Congress (Sasco) around 2008. He went on to work in the office of the mayor in Newcastle and for the KwaZulu-Natal health department, as a manager in their youth affairs department.

Being from KwaZulu-Natal may prove to be a disadvantage, as there are those in the larger mother party who are opposed to the idea of all senior leaders in the party coming from the increasingly influential province. The next ANC president is expected to come from the province, and possibly the next women’s league president too.

Mzobe’s slate is said to propose another task team member of the league and former Sasco leader, Mawethu Rune, as secretary general.

Pule Mabe 

Mabe was the former treasurer general of the youth league during Malema’s time, but managed to turn his political fortunes around by disassociating himself from Malema when the latter fell out of grace with the ANC, and actively backing Jacob Zuma to return as ANC president at the party’s conference in Mangaung in December 2012.

It partly landed him a coveted position on the ANC’s top decision-making body, the national executive committee (NEC). He is the youngest member of the ruling party’s NEC, and at age 34 this year, just makes the 35 cut-off for the youth league. Thanks to this status and his previous experience, Mabe wields significant political clout and has won the loyalty of key provinces such as Gauteng.

As a former M&G journalist and former government communicator, Mabe has been roped into the ANC communications subcommittee. He is a very savvy politician-cum-businessperson, and owns the publishing company KG Media, which is responsible for a host of transport-related media and activities, including a monthly newspaper, TV programme and training institute.

Mabe’s previous leadership roles included serving as deputy president of the students’ representative council at Technikon Northern Gauteng – now the Tshwane University of Technology – between 1998 and 1999. He also served as a Gauteng youth commissioner between 2003 and 2009.

He is not without controversy of his own, having served in the league when it ran up millions of rands’ worth of debt that went unpaid. The league faced possible insolvency after the national task team took over its affairs, when various creditors came calling for debts incurred during Malema and Mabe’s term in office. 

Mabe and Mzobe have emerged as the two strongest candidates, despite the fact that Mabe is facing criminal charges.

He was arrested in November last year in connection with illegally soliciting funds from the South African Social Security Agency.

Mabe has previously told the M&G that he is willing to face any court to prove his innocence. He is, however, unable to comment on the allegations facing him as the matter is currently sub judice. “We will clarify ourselves at the right time and on the right platform,” he said.

Ronald Lamola 

Lamola was Malema’s former deputy and touted to win as president when the latter was expelled. He has run a surprisingly public campaign, granting interviews about his ambitions to win the league presidency, which has earned him the derision of his competitors.

A lawyer by profession, Lamola grew up on a farm in Mpumalanga as the son of a farmworker. He joined the youth league in 1996 at the age of 14. In 2004, after being enrolled as a student at the University of Venda, he was elected president of the student representative council and later became provincial chairperson of Sasco in Limpopo. He served in the Young Communist League as secretary of the Gert Sibande region between 2008 and 2009, before joining the youth league’s provincial executive committee.

Since the league was disbanded, Lamola has channelled his energies into running his own law firm.

Youth league members say Lamola is just as determined as Malema when it comes to controversial policies such as land expropriation without compensation and the nationalisation of mines. In some cases, Lamola is regarded as being more vociferous than Malema and will offer added impetus to the league’s “economic freedom in our lifetime” programme.

It is not clear how successful Lamola’s campaign will be, given that his own province, Mpumalanga, has allegedly come out in support of Mabe, allegedly at premier David Mabuza’s behest. Lamola’s camp hopes that delegates from the province will still vote for Lamola under cover of their secret vote at the national conference.

Lamola’s camp has blamed their lack of progress so far on a lack of money, which they say Mabe has in plenty, or the power that Mzobe is said to hold over processes. But they believe his presence has been noted.

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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.

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