Author’s note: well, actually I didn’t write that. The initial title of my piece was “Is the Youth League still relevant?”

I have some great sub-editors at City Press that know how to turn a phrase when creating headlines, just to get folks reading I guess. But there is a distinction between strong and relevant, and if we are being honest the League is not yet as strong or relevant as it could be. Here’s the article including some paragraphs that we cut out to fit into the word limit.

First Published in City Press on November 29th, 2014

It’s been a roller-coaster week for us young Lions.

From where I sat in one of NTT hot seats, this week had long looked like it promised drama. I could hear the e-TV man’s voice promoting the next soapie episode – “This week, in Joburg…”

While we all expected the excitement to climax just before the culmination of Congress, it peaked early, in the beginning of the week.

On Monday night we removed the elective component of our long awaited Conference, and rebranded it a Consultative Conference.

The name isn’t as newly-fangled and conjured up in a smoke-filled room. Rather, it was dusted off from history. The League had two such Conferences in 1944 and 1991, when the ANCYL was founded and when it was to reestablish itself after nearly 30 years of the ANC being banned. The ANC has also had them. In 1969 it held a watershed Consultative Conference in Tanzania, dubbed the Morogoro Conference. Much of the effectiveness of the ANC in exile over the next two decades came as a result of the introspection that happened at this conference.

This institutional memory is one of the things I appreciate the old guard of the ANC for. My tenure in the NTT has made me increasingly cynical about the elders in the movement.

Speaking of cynical, on Tuesday morning, we were disbanded. By a reporter.

It’s become common place that media reports about the inner workings of the ANC and the Leagues are factually incorrect. Or draw the wrong conclusions.

Some of my comrades accept this as proof that “the media” is anti-ANC. I’m less certain about that. The behaviour of our reporters strikes me not unlike sharks in a feeding frenzy. It’s said the sharks get so worked up they often miss the target, or bite themselves.

A case in point was our Tuesday morning presser. Every reporter in the room played a game of out-poking each other, every question posed meant to simultaneously penetrate our soft underbelly  and expose us as liars, whilst showing off to their peers that theirs was the most devastating (unanswerable) query.

One journo in particular had everyone murmuring and nodding with their judo chop – “Is the Youth League still relevant?”.

I could see the envy in those that had simply kept to trying to find out what was the sinister reason behind the change.

It is only days later, when President Zuma, went off script and in full earshot of “the media” explained to congress delegates, did those questions die. The president had given them fresh meat – an admission that the ANC was shaken and in trouble. Duh.

Anyway, back to the strike, is the Youth League still relevant. I admit, I’ve asked myself and my comrades this a number of times.

It is a painful question, something akin to what a fading pop-star must be wondering of themselves as they see the limelight and accolades shift to a “newer”, “younger” wunderkind.

On the one hand as the youth wing of the largest political party in SA, the one that in arguably its toughest election year, garnered the support of the same percentage of the electorate that went to vote for Madiba the first time. So obviously, by extension, as the greatest mobilising agent in a youthful country it is relevant – hence all this journos being there with all of their questions.

It has created political superstars, household names out of the relatively obscure. And continues to do so. South Africans will know your name if you’re at the helm of this League. Or trying to get there. Which is why people speak liberally of the supposed front-runners for spot of Youth League president, were the Conference to actually have sat and elected leaders.

And which is one of the reasons contestation internally is so fierce.

Yes, it is relevant, but right now that relevance is skewed by privilege. The more you can “make it” on your own, the less you’d “need” the League. Ultimately influence in SA boils down to access. For the majority of South African youth, as a super-highway to access, and notoriety, the League presents a real, tangible and accessible opportunity. Just as TV does for beautiful people.

But is it a force to be reckoned with in society? People who ask this typically refer to a time when anything the League said made certain people shake in their boots. Anything less than a fearful response renders the League toothless.

Yet, it is the founding fathers of the League that surreptitiously shaped Southern African politics over the next 60 years. Everything from the tactics, to the ideology, the song and slogans that even other parties now use came from that Youth League. Arguably it was influential without being feared. That was relevant.

So now?

Well, the answer to that question will be in what the League decides to do after Conference. On how many taste-makers join its ranks, in how active it is in our communities, in how hard it fights for us, the young at heart.

Judging by sheer scale, access, and energy, the League remains a force to be reckoned with.

Judging by the amazing people I have met in my time in the ANCYL, I can only say, watch this space…

Sounds like a “yes, but…” neh. Well, it is.

But, for as long as individual members place the ambitions of those of us who can spread a little cash around above the interests of young people in their community, this question will be asked more frequently, more loudly.

The relevance of the Youth League lies in the relevance of each member. The answer therefore lies in their actions.

Judging by the amazing people I have met in my time in the ANCYL, I can only say, watch this space…

But, for as long as individual members place the ambitions of those of us who can spread a little cash around above the interests of young people in their community, this question will be asked more frequently.

The relevance of the Youth League lies in the relevance of each member. The answer therefore lies in their actions.

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