Buti Manamela, the “mini-me” to South African Communist Party (SACP) general secretary Blade Nzimande, is stepping down next week. The party’s youth wing, the Young Communist League (YCL), will elect a new national secretary at its national conference in Cape Town to succeed the long-serving leader.
Manamela, a deputy minister in the presidency, who has headed the YCL since its relaunch 11 years ago, confirmed to the Mail & Guardian this week that he was not available for re-election. The YCL imposes no age limit for its members unlike its ally, the ANC Youth League, which has an age limit of 35. Manamela, who is 35, says he is stepping down because he believes it is time for new blood at the top of the YCL.
Described by his critics as domineering party boss Nzimande’s puppet, Manamela insists that he is his own man who openly spoke his mind during party meetings.
“My relationship with Blade was not that of [him] dictating terms,” he says. “We were given space to hold a different view. For example, the party [SACP] has been opposed to suggestions to contest elections independently from the ANC, but the YCL took a resolution saying the party should stand for elections.
“That remains the position of the Young Communist League. But we did not go all out to insult the party for not warming up to our suggestion. Those who say I am a puppet want me to throw insults towards Nzimande. It was never my attitude. There was no need to insult the party.”
YCL has done its best
Manamela says he was happy to leave the YCL a much stronger organisation than it was in 2003. Though the league’s Operation Khula campaign – a recruitment drive launched in 2006 to reach a target of 100 000 members before the 2010 congress – failed dismally, Manamela believes the YCL has done its best.
“We now have over 90 000 members and 1 237 branches across the country. We have presence in all provinces and 37 out of 52 districts. Other than the youth league, there is no other youth organisation that can claim to be bigger than the YCL in the country. For me that reflects a strong organisational presence.”
Among the successful campaigns the YCL ran under Manamela’s leadership were those that demanded access to free sanitary towels for young girls, particularly those in rural areas, calls for young boys to be circumcised and getting the department of basic education to stop publishing the names of Grade 12 pupils when it releases matric results.
One of the key campaigns he counts as a success in his political career was working with the youth league to campaign for the election of Zuma as ANC president in 2007.
Zuma rose to the party’s top position despite facing corruption charges, which were controversially dropped just before he became the country’s president in 2009.
“We reached a point where you can’t talk about politics in this country without mentioning the YCL. The organisation might not be where we wanted it to be, but it has played its part,” he said.
Last year, Manamela was among ANC MPs deployed by the party to defend Zuma before a parliamentary committee set up to decide whether public protector Thuli Madonsela’s report on the R246-million upgrades at Zuma’s Nkandla compound should be implemented in full, particularly the recommendations that called for Zuma to pay a portion of the costs.
At the time, Manamela launched a scathing attack on Madonsela, saying she was not God. He also alleged that she was influenced by a political agenda driven by the Democratic Alliance and the media. In what has been seen as a reward for his loyalty, Zuma appointed him as deputy minister in the presidency after the May elections.
“I would feel very insulted if that was what was in the president’s mind when he appointed me deputy minister, other than [taking into consideration] what I am capable of doing. It would be ridiculous,” he said.
Eastern Cape provincial secretary Mluleki Dlelanga has been tipped to take over as the new YCL national secretary and Yershen Pillay is expected to retain his position as the league’s chairperson.