Following two days of disorder as the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) fought over its registration process, the structure finally started its conference on Saturday, the first since 2015.
As deputy convenor Fasiha Hassan took to the podium at Nasrec to deliver the league’s political overview, some delegates were still complaining that they were being refused entry.
Delegates from the Eastern Cape’s Chris Hani region and some from the Free State were still camped at the registration point at the Unisa offices as Hassan declared the conference open.
She was followed by ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula, who said that those calling for the collapse of the conference were “anarchists”.
As Mbalula took to the podium, delegates from KwaZulu-Natal started singing Wenzeni uZuma, a song associated with support for former president Jacob Zuma.
Mbalula – who has been accused of interfering in youth league matters – said the process of convening the conference had been characterised by numerous challenges.
His involvement in the Eastern Cape conference, which led to its nullification, has angered some youth league members who support Aphiwe Mkhangelwa as their preferred candidate for league president.
Mbalula has also been accused of using his powerful position in the ANC to further the campaign of Collen Malatji, who is the frontrunner for president of the embattled league.
Mbalula’s last action as the overseer of the league’s national youth task team was the removal of Xola Nqola, who was appointed as the convenor three months ago.
Not fazed by the negative reaction to his decision, Mbalula said delegates should not argue about people who had been appointed and not elected.
“Xola was withdrawn and that decision will not be changed because that decision was taken by the ANC. You have a responsibility in this conference, with all its imperfections, to elect a leadership.”
He warned the “ill-disciplined” that they would be dealt with.
“If you have to hate us then that will be the case. We will never tolerate anarchy and ill-discipline in the African National Congress.”
Mbalula said young people should reclaim the league as its disbanding was politically problematic, and gave licence to those who wanted to control the governing party’s youth structure.
EFF leader Julius Malema’s name was featured in the addresses of Mbalula and Hassan.
Alluding to the EFF, Mbalula said he was witnessing some parties that were trying to march the youth league. Hassan accused the EFF of stealing youth league policies and presenting them as their own.
“You marched some years back, you said economic freedom and the ANC answered. And you said the second transition when we turn 100 years must be defined by economic emancipation. The 2017 conference of the ANC and Mangaung said that this economic emancipation must be radical. Other people then took the slogan [of] economic freedom and formed political parties around it. Others now take RET (radical economic transformation), they want to form political parties around it. Those are policies of the ANC, they are in the strategy and tactics.”
As the structure headed for its credentials – a process of auditing and verifying delegates – some youth league members said they would challenge the audit process, which had caused the two-day delay.
Appealing his removal, Nqola said in a letter to ANC officials that there were a lot of branches of the ANCYL who had not received their audit reports, and there were others that had been “fraudulently audited to either participate or not participate in the congress on the basis of the personal preferences [of individuals]”.
“The audit process was also marred with bullying and threats of members, branches and structures of the ANCYL in an unprecedented manner.”
Mbalula refused to entertain questions about the audit process during a media briefing.