Youth leagues bide their time on #BladeMustFall

Youth league secretary general Njabulo Nzuza said 'this is not only about Blade, but all underperforming ministers'. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Youth league secretary general Njabulo Nzuza said 'this is not only about Blade, but all underperforming ministers'. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

The ANC Youth League has warned that its call for calm in the higher education sector does not mean it has smoked a peace pipe with Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande.

The youth league has repeatedly called for the higher education minister’s head, making for one of the starker political contradictions thrown up by the #FeesMustFall protests: a section of the ruling party is calling for a minister appointed by its president to be fired and the same call is being made by the ANC’s arch-enemy, the Economic Freedom Fighters.

The dissonance seemed resolved last week, when the youth league and other ANC-aligned youth structures under the banner of the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) issued a statement calling on protesting university students to return to class. Students, the group said, should give the commission of inquiry appointed by President Jacob Zuma a chance to investigate the feasibility of free education, as instructed.

Youth league secretary general Njabulo Nzuza said the league was still unhappy with Nzimande, but would take its campaign for his removal off the streets.

“All we are saying is that there has been progress after the intervention by government into the fees crisis. Our unhappiness with Blade will be [expressed] within organisational processes.

“We are no longer saying Blade must fall, but there must be a process that must be followed to express our unhappiness with him. If people are not performing, they must go. This is not only about Blade, but all underperforming ministers,” said Nzuza.

Earlier, an alliance leader said Nzimande had warned the youth structures that their involvement in #FeesMustFall risked hurting the ANC in the upcoming local government elections.

“He engaged the PYA leaders last week and told them their continued participation in the protests is empowering organisations like the EFF and part of the ultra-left movement. The reality is that the PYA is bringing numbers to a movement that does not add value to the ANC,” said the alliance leader.

He said it was Nzimande who persuaded Zuma to establish the fees probe to swing public sympathy to the government and the ANC.

“We knew that, after the president’s announcement, no one will want to continue with the protests unless people had political agendas,” said the alliance leader.

Nzuza said he was not aware of Nzimande’s alleged warning regarding the elections, but said: “We are not intimidated by anyone when we deal with issues. If he [Nzimande] is not performing, he is not performing. We did not enter the student protests because we wanted to save the ANC face. We are saying to students that they must go back because there is progress,” said Nzuza.

South African Communist Party spokesperson Alex Mashilo said his party was not prepared to enter into a debate with the youth league.

“Blade is not an SACP minister. You can’t isolate him to say he is a minister of the SACP. He is a member of the ANC national executive committee [NEC] and national working committee,” said Mashilo.

He said the SACP was focusing on challenges facing the alliance. “The success of the ANC and the alliance … will not come from factions and their pursuit of an individual leader of the ANC or another alliance component, and therefore disunity. It will come from the strategic importance of the alliance … and the total strength of all its components, including the ANC,” said Mashilo.

SACP second deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila has previously accused the youth league of being used by some ANC NEC members – and ministers – to weaken Nzimande politically.

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004. Read more from Matuma Letsoalo

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