ANC Youth League national executive committee member Victoria de Beer is hoping to make history by becoming its first woman president when the young lions convene their elective conference in September.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian this week, De Beer took a swipe at ANC leaders who, she said, interfere in the affairs of the league and use its leaders as pawns in their factional battles.
She called on the youth wing to find its voice and speak up against being used by older members in its mother body.
The 31-year-old, who serves as the member of the mayoral committee for finance in the Free State’s Fezile Dabi district municipality, wants to restore the confidence of young people in the troubled party ahead of the 2019 general elections.
De Beer said the youth league had failed young South Africans by allowing itself to be used for factional agendas that didn’t serve its constituency. “We need to move away from the ANC’s factions and we must also, as young people, stop being used by old people [in the ANC] with money,” she said
“We need to stand up and say it can’t be that those with the most money are the ones who will lead, and forget about society. We must not be used by old people to fight their battles. We have our own battles.”
So far, the race for the position of new youth league president has been dominated by men. Names touted include current youth league treasurer general Reggie Nkabinde, KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary Thanduxolo Sabelo and national executive committee member Ndumiso Mokako, who is believed to be the preferred choice of ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa.
De Beer said her bid to become the league’s first woman president would hopefully bring to an end the trend of men occupying the position.
“The youth league has never had a female president; it’s only had two female secretaries general. Some of the people who engaged me said we must try to deal with the issue where only male comrades are seen to gun for senior positions.
“In order to fight against the system of patriarchy, we must be able to raise our hands and say we are available as women.”
The spread of women in the youth league’s leadership largely mimics that of the ANC at national and provincial levels. The party has been criticised for not having women chairing its provincial structures.
In December, the ANC missed a chance to show its commitment to gender parity when it did not elect a woman as its president at the Nasrec elective conference. There had been numerous calls, including from the youth league, to anoint Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as party leader.
De Beer, however, questioned some of the positions the youth league had taken in the lead-up to that elective conference, believing they were an example of how its leaders were being used as pawns in a greater battle between ANC factions. She believed the party showed a lack of respect for the league and the role it had played in the ANC’s success.
“I don’t think the ANC is still taking the youth league seriously in terms of fighting for the agenda of young people. We need to remind the ANC why the youth league was formed in the first place, so they can actually take us seriously again,” she said.
As the party heads towards the 2019 elections, the youth league will have to work to endear itself to young voters. There are more than six-million registered voters between the ages of 18 and 29, the second-largest group of the voting population and the one most coveted by political parties.
The Economic Freedom Fighters has already made clear its intentions to target this segment of the voter population, and De Beer admitted that the league was concerned about the effect the EFF would have on the ANC’s youth vote.