The ANC downgraded the ANC Youth League’s elective conference to a consultative forum not just to prevent it from descending into chaos, but also to ensure that President Jacob Zuma’s position in the ANC and the government remains secure before the party’s national general council next year.
Zuma has already been put under pressure by ANC veterans, opposition parties and civil society to pay back part of the R246-million spent on upgrading his Nkandla home, as recommended by the public protector Thuli Madonsela.
Allowing youth league members such as Pule Mabe or Ronald Lamola to ascend to the league’s powerful positions and for the youth league to regain its independence could pose a serious threat to an ANC president under fire.
Mabe and Lamola were once close allies of former league president and now Economic Freedom Fighters leader, Julius Malema, who wanted Zuma removed as ANC president at the party’s conference in Mangaung in 2012. The league under Mabe, Lamola and Malema also differed sharply with the mother body about policy direction. The young lions even went as far as questioning the multimillion-rand upgrade to Nkandla while the majority of South Africans were still trapped in poverty.
Although Mabe took a different position from Lamola and Malema and supported Zuma to be re-elected as ANC president, it appears this did not earn him the trust of the paranoid president.
But Mabe’s situation is exacerbated by the fact that he is facing serious charges ranging from theft to fraud and money laundering for allegedly siphoning off millions of rands from the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa).
Sold out by the ANC leadership
The ANC’s integrity committee recommended that Mabe should step aside from contesting any position in the youth league because being elected could bring the ANC and league into disrepute.
But an ANC national executive committee member believes the case against Mabe would not have counted against him if he was Zuma’s preferred candidate.
“Mabe believed he was favoured by the ANC leadership, but they sold him out. If they wanted him, they would have allowed the conference to continue. Zuma knew very well that, if you allow rebels like Pule to control the youth league, there could be a revolt against him at some stage.”
Zuma would have preferred the former youth league national task team co-ordinator, Magasela Mzobe, to be elected, but it was not certain that Mzobe could win.
“There were varied clashes of interests within ANC leaders. Most, including Zuma, did not know what the outcome of the conference would be. What is clear is that people did not want a youth league that would have another Julius Malema. The youth league now is filled with mavericks.
“Mabe and Lamola could not be trusted because of their previous association with Malema. The best formula was to convert the league’s elective conference. It was the best solution for all,” the senior ANC leader said.
Extending the president’s term
Early indications are that Zuma wants to remain ANC president after 2017. The Mail & Guardian reported two weeks ago that some ANC provincial leaders are already lobbying for him to be able to continue in his role until 2019 to bring the ANC president’s term of office in line with that of the state president.
Political analysts Professor Adam Habib and Ebrahim Fakir said it was unlikely Zuma would want to be re-elected ANC president for a third term.
“You already have provinces that are opposed to suggestions that he must continue serving as ANC president until 2019,” said Fakir, adding that it would be in Zuma’s best interests to anoint his preferred leader instead of making himself available
Habib said Zuma was astute enough to know the contest for a third term did not go down well in the ANC.
What Zuma wants from the league
An alliance leader said, for Zuma to survive his terms in government and the ANC, he needed a weak youth league and a toothless Cosatu and South African Communist Party.
Zuma last week acknowledged that the ANC was in trouble and shaken, but he appeared not to realise that the Nkandla saga was partly responsible for the state of affairs in the ruling party.
He made it clear in his address to the league’s consultative conference that he wanted the kind of youth league that would defend him.
“We need the youth league that is patriotic. It’s your duty to make young people to be patriotic. One of your tasks is to defend the ANC. Those who call [on radio shows] to make negative [remarks about ANC leadership] are few. Why are you not defending the ANC? I want more of you to come out and defend the ANC.”
He said the militancy in the youth league should be controlled.
“We can’t say you must not be militant, but we must call you to order. It [the militancy] must all be positive ,not negative. You have been very quiet. I can’t hear you,” he said.