Opening Session of the ANC Youth League National Congress by Secretary General Fikile Mbalula
The convening of this National Congress of the ANC Youth League comes after a long protracted battle to revive the organisation, overcoming many obstacles that threatened its very survival.
During the course of the challenges confronted, as the ANC we made the unequivocal call that this must by all means be a National Congress by young people and not proxies of factionalists in the movement. 2
In making this call, we drew inspiration from the inaugural congress of the ANC Youth League on the 10th September 1944 that elected Comrade Anton Lembede as the its President with the blessings of the ANC but not their unwarranted meddling on internal and autonomous processes.
In a similar vein, the re-launch of the ANC Youth League in 1991 In KwaNdebele was constituted by young people themselves on their own volition that elected Comrade Peter Mokaba as its first President post the political unbanning.
Of-course the ANC Youth League has undergone many challenges, political and administrative, particularly since the first disbanding of its National Executive Committee.
Today we meet here again and we can declare without any fear of self-contradiction that we allowed the ANC Youth League National Congress to be convened by the youth of the ANC in what has been autonomous political processes!
I make this point because in its entire history, the ANC Youth League derived its militancy and radical from the autonomy it enjoyed within the ANC. It was precisely for this reason that as 3
the ANC we jealously guarded this autonomy with regards defining yourselves as the ANC Youth League both in terms of policy debates towards the resolutions that you will seek to make as well as the leadership that you will elect to advance those policy objectives, in the run-up to this National Congress.
Historically, from its founding in 1944, the ANC Youth League was allowed to rock the contours and paradigm of how the ANC imagined the future but with the utmost of discipline!
In this regard, ANC President Dr AB Xuma who differed with the generation of Anton Lembede, OR Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Mxolisi Majombozi, Robert Resha, Henry Makgothi, Robert Sobukwe, AP Mda and many others who convened at the Bantu Men Social Centre here in Johannesburg, nonetheless allowed those young people to freely express themselves.
Che Guevara attests to the importance of this balance between being disciplined and militancy in his address to the Union of Young Communists of Cuba: 4
“And it is obvious they should always listen, and listen with respect, to the voice of that experience. But youth must also create. Youth who do not create are a true anomaly. And the Union of Young Communists has been a bit lacking in that creative spirit. Through its leadership it has been too docile, too respectful, and not decisive in addressing its own problems.”
This was the generation that adopted the Basic Policy Document and helped consolidate the Programme of Action which in turn informed the programme of the ANC through resolutions made at the watershed 1949 ANC National Conference. It was at this ANC National Conference that from amongst the ANC Youth League Comrade Walter Sisulu emerged as the ANC Secretary General.
It was this generation of ANC Youth League leaders and members who swelled the ranks of the ANC and qualitatively catapulted the movement into new horizons of militant struggle. That youth generation was rightfully impatient with the tactics of deputation and pleading with the colonial regime both in 5
Pretoria and in London. Their slogan was aptly phrased: “Freedom in our lifetime!”.
Again, it was this generation that immediately hit the tarmac running, organising the first most radical and militant campaign, through the 1952 Defiance Campaign which was aimed at mobilising the masses in abolishing the racist pass laws.
Similarly, when the ANC Youth League was re-launched under Comrade Peter Mokaba’s Presidency in 1991, the ANC Youth League was allowed to define its own mission, within the ANC’s fold hence the organisation adopted the twin tasks of championing youth interests and mobilising them behind the vision of the ANC. I make this example because everyone knowns Comrade Peter “the lion of the north” Mokaba was fearless. However, when admonished to stop singing the song “Kill the Boer”, he did not sulk and bask in the pride that he was a popular and highly respected leader. He espoused the meaning of respect and militancy as defined by Che Guevara.
The ANC Youth League in the 1990’s laid down the culture of passing on the baton from one President to another, one NEC to another, as Comrade Peter Mokaba’s NEC passed on the 6
baton to the leadership under Comrade Lulu Johnson, thereafter Comrade Malusi Gigaba, thereafter myself, followed by Julius Malema and thereafter Comrade Collen Maine, all under regular National Congresses. However, thereafter the ANCYL was effectively dead!
It is your task to evaluate theoretically where things went wrong, on why the ANCYL succumbed to the political challenges of the day to the extent that it literally ceased to exist in the manner that is has always been.
Ours as the ANC is to encourage and support you as you define your own generational mission, and believe you will fulfil it instead of betraying it, as per the caution by Frantz Fanon. From here today, I can confidently say that the ball is in your corner, it is up to you to reach greater heights and emulate the generation of 1944 and subsequent generations post 1990.
The 1990’s generation was faced with the complex task of navigating an unfamiliar territory wherein the ANC was no longer a protest movement but a governing party. 7
It was a period that the ANCYL lived up to its mission defined through the twin tasks of championing youth interests and mobilising them behind the vision of the ANC! It was a period that the ANCYL rallied various youth formations to form the South African Youth Council and thereby instilled a sense of mass democratic character within the movement.
It was a period in which the ANC Youth League advocated for the formation of the National Youth Commission as a foremost government policy advocacy institution with Comrade Mahlengi Bhengu as its first Chairperson, as well as the subsequent formation of provincial chapters of the Youth Commission.
It was a period in which through the South African Youth Council (SAYC), the ANCYL championed the formation of the Umsobomvu Youth Fund (UYF) as funder for youth entrepreneurship and related economic development programmes, capitalised initially through a R1 billion grant from government.
And later when there seemed to be inefficiency in synchronising youth policy advocacy by the NYC and its provincial chapters, on the one hand, and the UYF financing 8
mechanism on the other, the ANCYL resolved to collapse the two institutions into the National Youth Development Agency informed by the policy posture of an Integrated Youth Development Strategy.
It was a period when the ANC sipped from the generation before it through political education and constructive political debates.
Over the years, the ANCYL faced many challenges, and in its latter years the problem evolved essentially around lack of discipline. Whilst we insist that the ANCYL must be robust, militant and radical, ultimately it cannot define itself outside the ANC! The moment there are tendencies to define the ANCYL outside the ANC, immediately we know that the organisation would have been infiltrated by either people who have no concept of what the ANCYL is all about, or people who purposefully seek to liquidate the organisation for their own narrow political ambitions.
Speaking to the Union of Young Communists of Cuban, the celebrated Che Guevara asserted in characterisation of a revolutionary: 9
“It will be so because you are Young Communists, creators of the perfect society, human beings destined to live in a new world where everything decrepit, everything old, everything that represents the society whose foundations have just been destroyed will have definitively disappeared. To reach that goal we have to work every day, along the lines of improving ourselves; of gaining knowledge and understanding about the world around us; of inquiring, finding out, and knowing why things are the way they are; and always considering humanity’s great problems as our own.”
The great Vladimir Lenin also made similar remarks on the first tasks of the youth when addressing the Third All Russia Congress of the Russian Young Communist League in October 1920:
“And so, in dealing from this angle with the tasks confronting the youth, I must say that the tasks of the youth in general, and of the Young 10
Communist Leagues and all other organisations in particular, might be summed up in a single word: learn.”
Part of the challenges the ANCYL faced and which to some extent faces the ANC itself, is the failure to study the material conditions in a scientific way so as to adopt policy postures that are watertight to the extent that they can deliver on the desired political objectives. This is the first and most important task facing the ANCYL today.
Che Guevara further amplifies this point:
“We must also defend the country by building it
with our work and preparing the new technical cadres to speed up its development in the coming years. These tasks are now enormously important, and are on the same level as the use of weapons
Lenin also made the following observations in this regard, of which I will extensively make a quote: 11
“That is the task you should pursue in educating, training and rousing the entire younger generation. You must be foremost among the millions of builders of a communist society in whose ranks every young man and young woman should be. You will not build a communist society unless you enlist the mass of young workers and peasants in the work of building communism.”
What Lenin here was arguing was the fact that those belonging to the Youth League, in this instance the Russian Communist League, must be essentially what we refer to as the Vanguard, the most advanced amongst the youth. This means essentially dedicating yourselves as the youth to cultivating ideas proof tested amongst your own peers and the environment to which you address yourselves across the spectrum of human endeavor. 12
And on the critical question of a vanguard, Che Guevara also lent his insights in address to the Union of Young Communists of Cuba:
“What is the Union of Young Communists
and what should it be? The Union of Young Communists should be defined by a single word: vanguard. You, campaneros, must be the vanguard of all”.
Lenin further asserted that:
“It is all the more necessary to dwell on this question because in a certain sense it may be said that it is the youth that will be faced with the actual task of creating a communist society. For it is clear that the generation of working people brought up in capitalist society can, at best, accomplish the task of destroying the foundations of the old, the capitalist way of life, which was built on exploitation. At best it will be able to accomplish the tasks of creating 13
a social system that will help the proletariat and the working classes retain power and lay a firm foundation, which can be built on only by a generation that is starting to work under the new conditions, in a situation in which relations based on the exploitation of man by man no longer exist.”
Lenin was fully conscious of his limited human lifespan as it is the case will all humanity that must ultimately face their demise. It was in this context that having fulfilled the mission of his generation through the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, he was fully aware that the next task of creating the new envisioned society fell squarely with the youth.
As the Vanguard, the Youth League must help the mobilisation of the “unenlightened peasants” and initiate the youth into political consciousness, as amplified by Lenin’s assertion:
“The class struggle is continuing; it has merely changed its forms. It is the class struggle of the proletariat to prevent the return of the old exploiters, 14
to unite in a single union the scattered masses of unenlightened peasants. The class struggle is continuing and it is our task to subordinate all interests to that struggle.”
This is analogous to the assertions of the twin tasks with regards mobilising them behind the vision of the ANC, in particular as you “subordinate all interests to that struggle”.
As you convene in this historic National Congress following the epoch that must never again visit the organisation, it is very clear that your tasks are enormous but not insurmountable!
I have full confidence that this youth generation is no different from the youth of 1944 under President Lembede or of the 1991 generation under President Mokaba!
I believe that your generation can, must and will triumph in repositioning the ANC YL as the pivot of youth struggles in the townships, in urban areas, in rural areas, in schools working in tandem with COSAS, in institutions of higher learning working with SASCO, the YCL and the Progressive Youth Alliance, in 15
the work places, amongst young professionals, and other organisations dealing with various societal issues.
I am confident that the ANC Youth League will not repeat the mistakes of the recent past, wherein membership to the organisation is seen as a mere career catapulting mechanism, which partly led to the political, moral and ideological bankruptcy of the organisation.
I am confident that a revitalised ANCYL will lend credence on why Lenin believed that it is the youth that must build the future from the ashes of the dethroned past.
And that having acquired lessons from the sum total of human experience, the youth have been enabled to plot a progressive agenda that advances the cause of the National Democratic Revolution amidst whatever hostilities arrayed against them.
The ANCYL must rightfully be impatient with slow transformation, mediocrity and corruption, and instead of decrying such realities must master the art of infusing vitality within the movement for accelerated national transformation as the undisputed vanguard! 16
I speak to you inspired by your gathering here today because for a long time we awaited this moment which I believe represents a new dawn on the youth political activism led by the ANCYL.
I believe that through your contribution we will see an accelerated renewal of the entire ANC and that the vices of factionalism premised on members of other members, for instance, will be a thing of the past.
I am confident that here today is gathered a generation of young people who have deep feelings of love for the people as attested to by Che Guevara’s attributes of the meaning of a revolutionary. Young people that are rightfully irked by the plight of the people as your primary concern. And that it is solely against this backdrop that you joined the movement voluntarily and for no personal material and selfish gain!
Of-course, we know that there are those who will seek to inject or infuse in you the very vices we seek to uproot as we renew the ANC and bury such into the past. 17
But I believe that the majority of you here will ensure that such vices find no expression within the ANC and the ANCYL and that you will be guided by the principle of “through the eye of the needle” in your leadership and political work.
We look forward to the resolutions that you will adopt from this National Congress, which I believe will be underpinned by the twin tasks of the ANCYL, as further unpacked by such giants as Che Guevara and Vladimir Lenin.
I believe political education as a result will constitute an important work of the ANCYL going forward because to be progressive and enlightened cannot automatically be acquired by mere membership to the ANCYL!
I believe that you will embrace the practicals of historical and dialectical materialism, as you move from quantity to quality on both membership and your political work!
Part of the ANC Youth League pertains international relations. Historically the ANC Youth League has been a member of both the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY) and the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY) of both host 18
periodically the IUSY Festival and the World Festival of Youth and Students, respectively. From these platform, the ANCYL has historically exchanged profound political ideas and programmes on international solidarity around issues such as the question of Palestine wherein we championed for the Two State solution, the freedom of Western Sahara from Moroccan occupation, the removal of the illegal blockade against Cuba as well as the democratisation of eSwatini, amongst many international issues.
The ANCYL will be bound to grapple with issues such as the tilting balance of power, which is rapidly moving away from a unipolar world to that of a multipolar world which in turn gives promise to multilateralism. You will be engaged with the geopolitical challenges involving, Russia, Ukraine and NATO, whose impact on Africa and the world has been signified by the African Leaders Peace Mission of which our President participated in presenting a 10-points plan towards ending the war.
You will recall that the ANC policy posture in this regard is that of non-alignment as we are anti-war, a stance that has been 19
confused for supporting Russia simply because together we belong to BRICS and also that we have historical ties on solidarity against apartheid, as Russia is the official Successor State of the USSR.
You will also be seized with the challenges of global warming and the whole debates on Just Energy Transition which emphasizes justice on the affected communities of fossil fuels such as coal, as the global community insists on embracing clean energy such as renewables.
You will be seized also with how South Africa relates to the rest of the African continent, and why we insist South Africa cannot afford to be an island of success amidst a sea of poverty.
I am certain you will be seized with how you must forge a progressive agenda not only in the African continent but globally to create the kind of world envisaged by institutions such as the United Nations, the African Union, SADC, ECOWAS etc, and how such institutions must be reformed to reflect the ideals of democracy and not unilateralism as reflected in the UN Security Council. 20
As I conclude, allow me to re-iterate in this regard Chairman Mao Zedong’s assertion in Peking in February 1957, in his declaration of:
“Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land.”
I take this opportunity to wish you well in your deliberations!
Viva ANC Viva!
Viva ANCYL Viva!
Roar young lion roar!