Rolling Stones down the hill: ANCYL 25th National Congress and Historical Pressures

In one of his works the Cuban Apostle Jose Marti makes the profound assertion that:

“Like stones rolling down hills, fair ideas reach their objectives despite all obstacles and barriers. It may be possible to speed or hinder them, but impossible to stop them.”

Without any iota of doubt, I am certain that in modern South Africa the type of idea Jose Marti is referring to here is the idea of economic freedom or what others call real socio-economic transformation. There seem to be consensus, from all sectors of society, that the time to liberate our people from the shackles of economic slavery has come and no amount of political posturing and bickering can stop this powerful idea; the time of which has come. The national discourse is rather on the approach, or path to be followed in making this powerful idea a reality.

As the 25th National Congress of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) approaches, the spectre of this mighty idea haunts delegates and imposes on them the cumbersome task of making this idea a reality. What makes the task more difficult for delegates to this conference is that it seats under special circumstances; firstly, the organization is taken to conference by an appointed task team and not the leadership branches elected in the previous conference. Secondly and imperatively, it is the first conference after the emergence of the Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF): an opposing organ posturing as a “youthful left radical organization” which wants to make society believe it is the messiah of the impoverished.

The 25th National Conference presents our generation with an opportunity of fulfilling our historic role of injecting new ideas and repositioning the ANC in different epochs and phases in the struggle for total political and economic liberation. The 70 year old ANCYL of Mandela, Tambo, Sisulu, Mbatha, Majambozi, Lembede and many others has successfully fulfilled this role and gauranteed the continued existence of the African National Congress (ANC) by ensuring that it mobilizes society in general, and young people in particular, around key challenges of each phase of the struggle, and most importantly, lead from the front: an onslaught on these challenges. Their gallant actions and spirit have ensured the ANCYL’s legitimacy amongst young people, and for a very long time, positioned it as the only voice of the voiceless and hopeless youth.

Despite the vast array of weaknesses confronting our organization, delegates must diligently perform the task of developing a practical program of action to bring into manifestation the idea of economic freedom and revive the hope our people have in the people’s movement, the ANC. Radical resolutions on the question of economic freedom or real socio-economic transformation will be the real test of the strength of the ANCYL, and its relevance to the majority of young people in South African; most of whom are causalities of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

The conference must also be able to highlight to the old guard in the mother body the material reality that resolving the deep socio-economic calamities confronting our people is not only in the interest of young people and South Africa in general, but the ANC itself. The conference has a responsibility to convince the ANC that trying to hinder this powerful idea through conservative proposals as contained in the National Development Plan (NDP) and the creation of the so called “black industrialists” will not stop the idea as maintained by Jose Marti. Instead it runs the risk to delegitimize the ANC amongst the masses and this fair idea, whose time has arrived, will reach its objectives led by the masses themselves or even worse, the EFF.

The conference must take the choice of expediting this fair idea because, we have seen many countries which have experienced revolutions or social upheavals due to the failure of their governing parties, through the state, to meet the citizens’ social and economic needs. History is also imbued with many examples of ruling parties losing state power through the ballot or other means because of their failure to adequately respond to the socio-economic needs of the masses. Lest we forget how the Fifth Republic Movement of Hugo Chavez rose to power in 1998 through the ballot after the then Venezuelan ruling party, under the leadership of President Rafeal Caldera, was failing to meet the economic needs of their citizenry; and the economy characterised by an ever increasing cost of living, in particular, for the middle class as we are witnessing in South Africa.

Economic freedom or real economic transformation, that will ensure the ANC sustains power and is not befallen by the same fate as the National Convergence Party of President Caldera in Venezuela will be to change the harsh reality that almost 7 out of 10 people willing and able to work are not finding any work in South Africa. Amongst other things, it will include changing the unfortunate reality and statistic that we are the most unequal society in the world with a Gini-Coefficient of 0.69 and this inequality manifests best in racial terms with a black household living with an average of R2400 per month and a white household living on R9600 per month.

The different discussion documents of the National Task Team (NTT), in particular the ones relating to social and political transformation prepared for the national conference lay a sound basis for the choice to expedite the fair idea of economic freedom and alter the current socio-economic situation in South Africa. The discussion documents provide a critique of the current neo-liberal policy discourse that has characterised South Africa post democracy and make proposals consistent with that of the 24th National Congress. Their message is unequivocal- that we must change our monopolised, racialized and gender-concentrated economy.

History has taught us that power concedes nothing without a relentless fight from the oppressed, and as a result of that lesson, delegates to congress must be willing to adopt a program of action to cease the current neo-liberal order and campaign for the restructuring of South African capitalism. The new social and economic order that the congress must resolve to campaign for ought to be premised on the Freedom Charter, especially the pertinent demand that makes a clarion call that all shall share in the country’s wealth. This will include campaigning for many changes; but for the purpose of this discussion, one will only explore a few and some of which are extensively discussed in the discussion documents.

Chief amongst these campaigns should be a campaign to challenge the mantra of excessive skills shortage and the reduction of the problem of unemployment; to only a problem affecting young people. The ANCYL must resort to a vigorous and vehement engagement with the ANC led government on these two challenges and how government has accepted a mercantilist excuse of retaining an army of the unemployed as the gospel truth. After the 5th General Elections almost all Premiers committed to producing more artisans and the Department of Higher Education and Training echoed this ideal insofar as to launch a program titled “the decade of an artisan”. And all these said institutions say little and almost nothing about the qualified artisans that are not finding work or the skilled but not certified welder that erects beautiful gates for us in our townships and suburbs.

The characterization of the problem of unemployment in South Africa as only a problem affecting young people robs us a valuable opportunity to engage on the real problem in South Africa, that of an economy that is not expanding sufficiently. This fallible characterization of the problem creates the false impression that a person above the age of 35 can find work as and when it pleases him/her, and as result, reduces the interest in this massive problem to a small challenge which can be resolved by a few billions given to the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) and the renamed Youth Wage Subsidy. The real problem in South Africa is that our economy has not expanded much from what the discussion documents coin the mineral-energy and finance complex; but we have rather experienced an increase in the value of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) mainly because of the increase in commodity prices and overall production of goods and services.

Delegates to the congress of the ANCYL must ensure that they safeguard the proposals of the discussion documents that call for an increase in state intervention in the economy and most importantly, call for state-led industrialization, like we have seen in most developing nations. Conference must treat with caution or dismiss the notion by the Department of Trade and Industry of creating black industrialists but put emphasis on increasing South Africa’s productive assets to create jobs preferably under the ownership of the state or worker cooperatives like we have seen President Lula da Silva do in Brazil. The dismissal of the concept of black industrialist will be an appreciation of the empirical evidence we have in South Africa that black ownership does not mean the majority is benefiting. Remember Aurora?

International experience teaches us that all developmental states that have been successful have a very strong state presence in their finance sector, and to this day, it’s still puzzling to note the fact that South Africa doesn’t have a fully fledged state owned bank. The discussion documents bring under the microscope the need of a state owned bank to finance development and further make a progressive proposal that we must use the established infrastructure of Post Bank. Delegates must safeguard this proposal and further resolve that all these other small developmental finance institutions are collapsed to strengthen the envisioned state owned bank. Post the congress, we must also begin a campaign that all government pension funds must be invested in the equity share of the state owned bank to ensure that workers’ monies improve their socio-economic conditions and is not abused to buy expensive houses and cars as we have seen the recent African Bank saga.

The last issue which delegates need to pay mind to, is our movements’ approach and attitude towards corruption. This is a necessary discussion because it is knowledge universally acknowledged that corruption undermines development and social progress. We have seen many African states like the Zaire of Mobutu Sese Seko and Kenya of the great Jomo Kenyatta collapse because of the scourge of corruption. Congress must make a serious appeal to the ANC and society at large that corruption will hinder the fair idea of economic freedom from reaching its objective and deprive our people the better life they yearn for and were promised.

Resolving to actively campaign for the idea of economic freedom is the best way to honour and celebrate the 70 years legacy of the class of 1944 and it is one of the best insurance policies to ensure it lives longer. “Cometh the hour, cometh the man”. The hour of economic freedom has struck and our ANCYL must rise!

>> Ndumiso Mokako is a Member of the ANCYL REC in Gert Sibande Region, Mpumalanga Province. He writes in his personal capacity

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