Becoming a politico

First Published in City Press May 6th, 2013

The story of becoming part of the oft-beleaguered interim leadership of the ANC Youth League


As a child I was accustomed to the people closest to me coming and going quite unexpectedly. One day however, I was crest-fallen to discover that one of my uncles had simply vanished overnight, and thus couldn’t make good on his promised to take me on an outing for my upcoming birthday. 

 My grandmother, MaMsimang explained gently that he “had been called by the movement”.  He had to heed the call, even if inconvenient, she continued: “and one day so will you”.

One such call came three weeks and three days ago. 

 Through the congratulatory message of a comrade and friend, I was made aware of a press conference at which the members of newly founded National Task Team (NTT) to “rebuild the ANC Youth League” had been announced. My name was amongst them. 

 The next day I got the call from Luthuli House. “We’ve assigned you some work; we’re sure you’ll oblige. Well, who can say no to that? Clearly none of the other 22 that I joined that weekend for a briefing with the ANC’s Secretary General and the NEC deployees to the team. 

 Alongside the sitting provincial chairpeople and secretaries that serve on the League’s executive we were given some insight into these peculiar head-hunting methods. 

 “We didn’t consult you, because it was about you. Instead we consulted widely about you”

 This reminded me of the urban legend of the Political leader who in the 90’s was asked by the ANC leadership to draft a team to work alongside him once given a particular high profile position in government. The excited young man dashed off and came back with a list of names. The old men at the time shook their heads and asked sadly “but why didn’t you consult [us] chief”. 

 Still, the unmentioned elephant in the room trumpeted “why us?”

 We were told the ANC had opted for people unlikely to stand for leadership positions in the League at it’s next elective Conference, either by age or temperament. That made sense, I imagine many would cry foul if front runners to lead went into the NTT, only to return as well entrenched front-runners. 

 But it would be a fortnight before I began to really appreciate the choices. At a workshop we all stood up one after the other an gave our credentials in modern-day peeing contest. I kind of felt like a drip. 

 These guys and girls were so accomplished in their own rights, all with diverse outlooks and extensive experience in their respective political or youth structures, civil society and the public sector, or even blends between them. “Activists wear many hats” it’s been said. 

 Perhaps it is because the ANC is perceived as the Borg from the outside, a swarm of similar minded, looking and sounding cyborgs responding only to the instructions of the hive, that many of the individuals would be said to be “unknown” as the press would intimate. 

 With regards the press, I got a rude awakening of the cold war between politicians and papermen and women. I was dismayed when this very paper used a sensationalist headline albeit quite catchy about 702 and I parting ways as a lead in to talk about the NTT. Storytellers should never be the story. 

 But what baffled me was the domino effect of media outlets all using the same story and each quoting the other as if that made it fact. Double-checking be damned when deadlines await. 

 Even more mind-boggling were the reports from certain NTT members received calls from journalists pretending to be officials at Luthuli House. “err… give us your CV comrade, no, non, don’t send it, just tell it to me now while we’re on the phone”. 

 Whilst that story elicited chuckles the blatant lies that one journo from the New Age published weren’t a laughing matter. 

 It would seem this ethic we bemoan as having been lost in the public sector is also missing in the fourth estate. 

 The private sector wasn’t too far behind. I got a phone call offering me a board position in light of my new appointment, and soon after a request from a stranger to assist with a tender from a municipality I had barely heard of. In South Africa access is everything. 

 Some of my comrades also got a hold of me. Whilst many expressed support and excitement by some sort of expected shake-up, some asked for positions in Youth League structures they were sure the NTT would be disbanding almost immediately. In South Africa power is everything.  

 Amidst the messages of support where young people of Youth League age who expressed their happiness that I was getting politically involved. When I asked if they would be joining me they mostly laughed and said “no, but you’re there mchana”. In South Africa we outsource everything. 

 “Don’t be cyncial Shaka” 

 These were SG’s last word’s to me as he walked past me out of the briefing room. 

 They were making sense. In the minefield between different interests, an inevitable paranoia, a different perceptions of our motives, and a contested dream for tomorrow, it would be easy to become disillusioned.

 And that’s what was so heartening about our last gathering as an NTT that Sunday; that regardless of the glut of issues that face us, or of the differences between us, there was a unity of purpose in serving the interests of young people the country over. 

 If only we as a society had that same unity of purpose – our young.; we would once again become the indomitable nation of our dreams. 

 May the ANC’s ancestors guide us.

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