The ANC chooses to ignore the demands of its own youth at its own peril.
It should also resist the temptation of cornering its radical youth into silence and docility.
Those who appoint themselves into architects of nursing radical congress youth views into passivity are writing an obituary of our movement.
As we celebrate 40 years since the 1976 Soweto Uprising this month I thought it important to make three public demands to our movement; (a) listen to us as you did to previous generations, (b) uproot all forms of arrogance and denialism and (c) allow us space to radically express our aims.
The movement is duty-bound to listen to its own youth and the young people of South Africa in general. It does not have an option of ignoring their claims to economic opportunities, social justice, leadership and development. Sadly the movement does not seem to be listening to its youth in a manner reminiscent of the 1940s, 70s and 80s period.
It is engrained in South African historiography and collective memory that our land was never the same again after the 1976 Soweto Uprising. Young black South Africans, guided by our movement, unshackled themselves from the excruciating chains of oppression by successfully defying an indoctrination plan of the apartheid regime.
They used their refusal to be taught in Afrikaans as a rallying cry for their mobilisation against Bantu Education in particular and the system of institutionalised oppression in general.
On the aftermath of the Soweto Uprising, thousands of young people crossed South Africa’s borders to join the ANC’s armed wing, uMkhonto WeSizwe. The arrival of this group, affectionately known as the ‘Soweto Detachment,’ saw the dramatic rise of MK operations.
This generation was of cause inspired by the 1944 generation that formed the Youth League and led the first radical charge against the Apartheid state.
Even though the pioneers of the 40s were maximally imprisoned, exiled or forced into underground activism, their rallying cry ‘Mayibuye iAfrica’ continued to make a symbolic noise which inspired various actions even during this time that was dubbed the ‘Silent Period of Resistance’ by historians.
The 1976 Youth Uprising was a key revolutionary act inspired by the spirit, vigour and determination of the 40s generation, a generation that had a listening movement.
Last year’s #FeesMustFall protest had a striking fidelity to the Soweto Uprising and we dare say that after this protest South Africa is not the same anymore.
Young people have once more asserted themselves as potent revolutionary force that can never be ignored. Different from 1976, these students were not yet protesting against the government but were opposing the exclusive system of South African education where money is the dompass for entrance and success.
Government here was merely warned and summoned to look into youth issues with the necessary speed.
Interestingly these students, coming from across the political spectrum of our land were expressing views that have long been expressed to the movement by the Congress youth organised in this instance by the South African Students’ Congress (SASCO). It took an involvement of other political formations and rumours of third-force protest high-jack for the movement to properly listen.
Even still, the business as usual approach to many issues facing young people suggest that our government might have not properly heard the warning signs. This is usually as a result of arrogance and denialism from some of our deployees and such conduct must be uprooted with the necessary speed and vigilance.
The taking of youth protest actions personal by our ministers, councillors and mayors is something that should be completely relegated to the past.
The movement is having a long term vision of creating a non-racial, no-sexist, united and prosperous nation and as such the well-known critiques of politicians having five year thinking spans are not supposed to be applying to it.
Arrogant deployees who are hell-bent on defending themselves at whatever cost at the detriment of addressing societal needs are inflicting a serious long term pain on the movement.
If we do not rid ourselves of such forms of arrogance we run the risk of being completely delegitimised as a credible leader of society. Our accumulated experience during the struggle against colonialism, segregation and apartheid shows us that a delegitimised regime takes decisions on the basis of paranoia and anxiety.
When these conditions have been created it is too easy to then make such a country ungovernable and its system unworkable. All signs exist that if we are not careful we might find ourselves cornered into appearing illegitimate in the face of our people.
There is a calculated, concerted and vociferous effort to deligimise the South African state and we should thus desist from doing things that make the work of the agent provocateurs easy. The relegation of young people into the fringes of the economy is having seriously negative effects on our body politic.
It is young people who are now turning into arsonist-protestors in our various communities.
The resolution of the economic question is of essence in arresting the collapse of our democratic system. Poverty and Inequality find their immediate cause in the fact that our economy is not creating enough employment for our people, more particularly the youth.
Our unemployment rate is staggeringly high with the Quarterly Labour Force Survey results of this year’s first quarter showing an increased unemployment rate of 26,7 percent. This statistic becomes even scarier when adding those who have given up on looking for work as it takes the overall figure to 36.3 percent.
A great number of those who are employed receive poverty wages, further escalating the number of people who battle to make a living in South Africa.
Young people have a greatest share of our countries unemployment rate at an all-time high of 54.5 percent in terms of the recent figures. This means that out of every 10 young people, six is unemployed. This is why many believe that they are a forgotten generation. This is too dire a situation to be governed by arrogance and denialism.
Radicalism is an instinctive feature of genuine youth politics. This is mostly because our activism is usually an expression of our conditions and with the South African youth unemployment being as high, it emerges automatically.
It is important for our movement to allow space for the free expression of this radicalism if the congress youth is to be successful in organising young people behind its banner. It is not the duty of our movement to contain this sense of urgency and radicalism, hence it is not its official policy.
These leaders who appoint themselves into being Sheriffs of policing radicalism within congress youth are weakening our movement.
Not stopping them will inadvertently lead us into an era where congress youth will be completely alienated from the conditions of the poor youth and or the sophistry of the middle-class youth.
Its sole purpose will thus not be to organise young people behind the congress banner but to praise-sing for certain leaders within the movement.
Leadership and deployment should not be given as a price for neutralisation or factional affirmation but it must be with the intention of building young cadres into all rounded leaders. The reality is that incidences of congress youth ascendance through the leadership, government or business ladder do not suspend the general anger and resolve of young people in our land.
It is our demand that we be given the necessary space to express ourselves and grow within a movement that is free from scheming, factionalism and palace manoeuvring.
It is with great pain that we are growing up in a constrained movement, characterised by hostilities standing at binary fronts giving us no option but to choose one over the other and continue with the war.
Exaggerated worshiping and praise singing for the leader of the faction is the basic ticket for one’s recognition and identification for development within the ranks of that faction. Usually this must be accompanied with an incomprehensible hatred for the leader of the opposing faction.
At a young age we are thus cornered into do or die politics where conferences are the be-all and end-all of ones activism in structures of the movement. It is so insecure an environment characterised by intense scheming and backstabbing famously denoted by the catch-phrase ‘There are no permanent friends or enemies in politics.’
It is depressing that our radicalism is expressed within factions and we are losing our youth years to calculated politics rather than politics of genuine expressions of existing grievances. We are thus becoming detached from those who we are supposed to represent as we speak far above their heads.
Sadly, the 1944, 1976 and 1980s passionate youthful struggles are being drastically replaced by passive youth politics yet there is a belief that the general youth will continue to stay with us.
Interestingly we are faced with a youthful opposition that takes most of its key activists into parliament and various legislatures.
Our key cadres, who are in the main gracefully ageing, are mostly located in the executive with the parliament being mostly used as an official site of re-deployment or a queuing place for deployment.
As this happens our young peers from the opposition are accumulating a lot of oversight and governance experience whilst we are being blackmailed into being permanent factional paratroopers of certain interest within the movement. This is why some young people get attracted to the toxic concoction that these opposition parties call policies.
Perhaps the congress youth is left with no option but to design their own path of political activism and development within the movement. The Youth League as a symbolic head of all congress youth organs should thus use this 40 Year Anniversary of the Soweto Youth Uprising as a cut-off date for the rot and declare a programme for the revival and radicalisation of the movement. Maybe a time has arrived for a disciplined and concerted Youth Rebellion to be led from within the movement.
Cde. Luzuko Buku is a PEC Member of the ANC Youth League in the Eastern Cape