Life (and death) of the party
The ANC Youth League has lost its party spirit, leaving petulant political gestures to the EFF
I’m starting to worry about the ANC Youth League (ANCYL). Its members are all so gloomy — so nihilistic. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect from the EFF, with those fancy French berets its members like to wear, and their constant writing of absurd poetry. (Correction: I’ve just been informed by the editor that those are press releases.) But I’ve always thought of the ANCYL as the party people party organisation.
I still remember the pang of admiration I felt a few years ago, when two youth league members ran up an R80,000 bill at a nightclub in Durban, claiming that the two-day event was an ANC election rally. According to news reports, the bill included R24,000 worth of whisky and R10,000 for champagne. Now that’s the swill of the people, so to speak.
And that pales in comparison with an unpaid bill in 2008, which "left a printing firm, businesses in the accommodation sector and a pub owed at least R800,000" after a conference.
But this party-hard attitude has come home to roost, and the ANCYL is now bankrupt and unable to convince its mean parents to fork out for the next conference.
What happened to the formerly irrepressible organisation?
A few days ago, one of the attendees of what was referred to as "a 70-strong gathering" of Jacob Zuma supporters (70? I’m starting to sense why they’re depressed) offered to die for the former president.
"Some of us have nothing to lose, and if it means we have to die, that is fine. It cannot be correct that Msholozi fought for the country but is treated like an orphan, like a criminal," she told City Press.
This desire to be martyred on the pyre of state capture isn’t new to the youth league, of course. Seasoned fans of the ANCYL sitcom will fondly remember when former league president Julius Malema told a 2008 gathering in the Free State: "We are prepared to die for Zuma."
An even fonder memory is of Zuma complaining in 2016 that Malema was still alive. "He used to say: ‘I will die for Zuma.’ How do you trust now that he means what he says?" Zuma plaintively asked.
Malema’s rejoinder was: "He wanted to continue to molest me without Vaseline and I must keep quiet, he can go to hell ..."
See, now that’s the party animal I remember.
It all smacks of one of those sad political gestures designed to make a point violently that you can’t make intellectually
Happily, I don’t think any ANCYL member has yet actually had to die to keep Zuma out of prison — unless it was inadvertently as a result of the destruction of one of our state institutions by the Zuptas. In fact, the ANCYL doesn’t technically exist right now, I think, so the fantasy world is strong with them in general.
In the words of former ANCYL national task team member Rebone Tau: "We are currently on autopilot as the ANCYL."
Sibongile Besani, the co-ordinator for the national task team responsible for rebuilding the ANCYL from the petulant ashes of its past, resigned "a day after the task team released a statement in support of former president Jacob Zuma".
The ironic (I assume) response from the ANCYL in the Free State was that "Besani’s resignation … was not a surprise, as the co-ordinator was known to ‘always throw his toys [out of the cot] whenever faced with politically challenging situations’.
"This confirms our long-held view that the rebuilding of the ANCYL requires young people with the necessary energy and political stamina, as opposed to old political spoilt brats who never played any meaningful role in the ANCYL during their youth."
Such dour repartee. In an effort to discover if the ANCYL has betrayed the laugh-a-minute partying of its past, or if in fact it is returning to an old, founding idea of the ANCYL, I dug up a basic policy document from about 2011 (it’s not big on footnotes and attribution, sadly).
The first line is the mission statement, which could read as Malema’s political life plan must (with upper-case EFF): "Entrenching the hegemony of the ANCYL as a vibrant and militant economic freedom fighter."
Hegemony, according to the Collins dictionary, means "the position of being the strongest and most powerful and therefore able to control others".
It doesn’t sound like the most democratic goal ever, but hey.
If you wade through all 27 pages, the last point is number 110: "Now is the time for the youth of SA to be organised to face the enemy using modern weapons of war."
Perhaps this is why ANCYL members are volunteering to die for Zuma. As we know, suicide has definitely become a modern weapon of war, and not one you want to joke about. But it all smacks of one of those sad political gestures designed to make a point violently that you can’t make intellectually.
The EFF is particularly good at this form of discourse, and we were due to be treated to one of its trademark "stamp our feet and shake it all about" parliamentary interventions at Thursday’s state of the nation address (after this column was submitted, unfortunately).
On Sunday, Malema told representatives of the media: "We are going to demand that Pravin [Gordhan] must go, and we are going to demand that in parliament … When Cyril [Ramaphosa] starts [to speak], we start. That’s how it’s going to roll. When he starts to speak, we are speaking also about Pravin."
For those of you who missed why Pravin must go, it’s basically because he’s Indian.
Malema reportedly accused Gordhan of "running this country and destroying our assets", saying this must come to an end.
"The man is untouchable," he said. "There were two people who misled the president, it was Pravin, it was [former Eskom chair] Jabu Mabuza. An African has fallen but the Indian has remained because these minorities are not touched."
The EFF is returning to an old ploy. In 2016, for example, MPs shouted down National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete for an hour before being evicted from parliament.
"Zuma is no longer a president that deserves the respect from anyone," screamed Malema.
I like a dramatic political gesture as much as the next politics junkie, but is it too much to expect something more like the interventions of the Situationist International in France and other European countries, something more nuanced, from the red berets?
Though perhaps Malema is right to keep his gestures as crude as possible with our speakers. Something too subtle can go wrong, as with US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent tearing up of President Donald Trump’s state of the union address on camera. That gesture is being used by Trump in a misinformation campaign that features a video with the shouty title: "POWERFUL AMERICAN STORIES RIPPED TO SHREDS BY NANCY PELOSI."
The video shows Pelosi tearing up Trump’s address, and the ripping is interspersed with clips of Trump honouring various Americans. Facebook and Twitter, those defenders of democratic free speech, are refusing to take down the videos.
As political gestures go, disrupting parliament at least guarantees headlines and TV coverage. "Not-dying" for Zuma just attracts ridicule. The masters of empty gestures are Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina, and military fashion icon Carl Niehaus, who have both promised to go to jail for Zuma if he is locked up.
It’s a slightly defeatist attitude, one feels, but also a very weak political gesture if you don’t follow through (spoiler: they won’t). To be fair, though, it’s still more dramatic than former DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s endless threats to build a movement.