As celebrated in January Statement of 2017; it is the 30th Anniversary of SAYCO, an organization of the Young Lions, that roared the ANC to power.
Cde. Peter Mokaba called them the “Shock Troops of our Revolution”.
History bears witness to their role in fighting apartheid and colonialism.
Between 1983 and 1993 over 2 700 young people were killed/massacred and assassinated. Over 60 000 were detained during the State of Emergency of 1985 to 1986, some of them spending years incarcerated.
During apartheid’s darkest days, many went into exile to train as MK combatants gaining the detachment name of the Young Lions.
Most others who did not go to exile remained behind and trained internally – becoming part of the Self Defense Units (SDU’s) against the surrogate forces of apartheid. These Young Lions were the last line of defense against the aggression of the brutal enemy.
The story of the Young Lions has not been fully inscribed in the chronicles of history.
Each terrain of struggle has its own story to tell, from Gugulethu, to Kwa-Mashu, Mamelodi, Alexandra, Soweto, Mankweng, Galeshewe, Botshabelo, Siyabuswa, Bisho, Mahwelereng, New Brighton, Kwa-Nyamazane, Kagiso, Kwa Thema, Duduzane, Lamontville, Sharpville, Seshego, Ga-Nchabeleng, Langa, Cradock, Kwa-Maphumlo, Driefontein, Kanana and many others.
The Young Lions operated with zeal and determination to defeat the enemy, forcing the apartheid police to retreat. They used all means at their disposal, from stones, to petrol bombs, to mass-mobilization, to consumer and school boycotts to stay-aways to force the hand of the mighty Nationalist Party regime.
This came as the enemy was bringing troops into the townships including the notorious Koevoet (a specialized unit operating in Namibia) and using assassinations squads to break our comrades. During this time many comrades disappeared or were assassinated, with their whereabouts unknown to this very day.
The Young Lions openly defied the apartheid regime. They effectively unbanned the then-banned ANC and SACP.
Every funeral or activity was an ANC site of struggle, with flags openly displayed including the biggest flag ever displayed at the funeral of the Cradock 4, (Mathew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlawuli) in 1985.
They declared their support for Freedom Charter. They listened to Radio Freedom. They followed the line of march as we called it. The ANC was their organization and OR Tambo their commander.
Thanks to the generation of Young Lions (whom some disparagingly referred to as the lost generation) we enjoy the fruits of liberation. And yet many of them are poor, unemployed, still feeling the after-effects of the brutality of the regime such as torture, neglected by the welfare system and condemned to a life of deprivation.
Yet it was they who gave their all to liberate this country. They deserve recognition.
We know we were not in struggle for personal gain or for self glory; but acknowledging those who fought the enemy is what each nation does. Every nation honors its heroes and heroines with history books, museums, monuments, statutes and memory walls.
Even in prison and detention, the Young Lions embarked on hunger strikes that went for months. They declared that unless they were released they would never end the hunger strikes. Many ended up in hospital with others escaping to foreign embassies and then going into exile where they would intensify the campaign for the international isolation of apartheid South Africa.
Indeed, the “Freedom or Death – Victory is Certain”, slogan of SAYCO was alive. Their efforts eventually saw comrade stalwarts like Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu and others getting released from prison. This was later followed with the release of detainees and political prisoners, leading to unbanning of our movements and return of exiles.
We see this generation as the most daring, undeterred and brave -ready to die for the cause. Yet those who want to undermine their contribution to the struggle for total liberation refer to them as lumpen or “ibovu”.
They were simply the best generation of fighters. They fought at home and in the belly of the Beast. They were in trenches and on the frontline. They were tortured, killed, assassinated, disappeared, massacred, detained and imprisoned, but they feared nothing.
Let us honor them as we celebrate the 30 years of SAYCO; which became the national umbrella body of Youth Congresses established from from 1992 following the COSAS Resolution to form youth movements.
Let us include the chapters on the period 1979 to 1993; the Era of the Young Lions in our history books; as we did with other chapters in the liberation history of South Africa.
Let us trace our Young Lions, let us create a chatroom for them so they can come forward and tell their stories. We owe it to them. We owe it to history. We owe it to the future.
CDE OBED BAPHELA IS A MEMBER OF THE ANC NEC. HE WAS A JUNE 16TH ACTIVIST AND FOUNDING MEMBER OF COSAS AS AN ANC UNDERGROUND OPERATIVE. HE WAS AN ALEX YOUTH CONGRESS ACTIVIST AND LEADER, UDF ACTIVIST, AN ACCUSED IN THE CRADOCK RED FLAG TRIAL AND IN THE ALEXANDRA FIVE TREASON TRIAL. HE IS A FORMER LEADER OF THE ANC IN THE FORMER PWV REGION.