What to do about the youth?

Andrew Donaldson wonders when the young lions of the ANC Youth League will be roaring again

THE problem with youth, the regulars at the Mahogany Ridge will tell you, is that it’s wasted on the young. Which, as it turns out, is the sort of thinking that’s trending in certain ruling party quarters. 

You will recall how, in November last year, after its shambolic elective conference was postponed, seemingly indefinitely, supporters of former ANC Youth League treasurer-general Pule Mabe wanted to raise the membership age limit from 35 to 40 to ensure that he remained in the running for league president.

At the time Mabe, who turned 35 in February this year, was facing charges, along with two others, of defrauding the South African Social Security Agency of more than R2-million in 2013, and was out on bail of R10 000. 

He and his fellow accused have since been acquitted – which was perhaps a bit of a setback to his leadership ambitions; history has shown that, as far as our liberation’s concerned, there is perhaps nothing like a spot of fraud to give a presidential campaign a big up in the credibility department. 

In the interim, though, Nathi Mthethwa, the sometime minister of arts and culture who is in charge of a committee supposedly tasked with nursing the youth league back to a fabled former glory, has given Mabe the go-ahead to run for president. 

This was almost two months ago, when the ANCYL’s June 25-28 elective conference was then still on track, and a fairly upbeat Mthethwa was telling the media that the ANC wanted a rejuvenated youth league. “We want to see the ANCYL driven by devotion to a cause,” was how he put it. “The roar of the young lions is missed.”

That may indeed be the case, although Mabe could be a rather aged lion by the time the league gets together to elect its first president since the ousting of Julius Malema. As for a devotion to a cause, well, here it seems the driving is being done by senior party members with ambitious personal agendas.

Sources within the youth league are claiming their elective conference is in limbo because those jostling for a position in the party’s top six in 2017 want to first impose their preferred candidates for league president before normal service, if I may put it that way, is resumed. Which, it seems, could now be in September, although we’re not holding our breath. 

North West premier and ANC provincial chairman Supra Mahumapelo, Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza, Free State premier Ace Magashule, State Security Minister David Mahlobo and even Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane are among those accused of this interference.

It is, though, something of a two-way street. According to a News24 report, ANCYL presidential hopefuls Collen Maine, currently a North West MEC, and Lesego Makhubela, the league’s Tshwane chairman, have both been busy sucking up to party leaders, assuring them that if they helped them with their plans, they in turn would support their leadership campaigns in 2017.

This sort of behaviour is normal in a political environment – in as much as any environment clotted with narcissists and psychopaths could be described as normal. It is a great pity, however, that such energy and feverish activity could not be put to good use. Something practical and worthwhile, let’s say, like working at a hardware store or even helping out at a library.

Such opportunities are scarce, though, and one in three youth are now unemployed and loll about the place waiting to join Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters. 

But fear not. Government has been thinking, and City Press has reported that conscription could be reintroduced by as early as June next year as part of a plan to contain spiralling unemployment. The ANC-led alliance has for some time now been calling for an “improved” national youth programme in which the defence force and various other government departments would play a role. 

Buti Manamela, one of our more dimmer communists and a deputy minister in the Presidency, is charged with developing a less callow sort of youth. He is very bullish about military training and is convinced it will counter social alienation, gangsterism and drug and alcohol abuse with discipline, patriotism and other warlike habits.

So is Gwede Mantashe, the ANC’s chief gnome. The army, he has said in his usual excitable manner, would be “the most equipped structure that could deal with young people in a structured way”. 

That structured structure would naturally include weapons training. Which should be of concern. National service costs money and there doesn’t seem to be too much of that about.

Remember, it is always ugly when soldiers don’t get paid.

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.