The Death Of Intellectualism In The ANC Youth League


The rise of tribalism, arithmetic politics and unscientific youth replacing sound -scientific academics & intellects, writes VUSIE MBA   

Over the past few years, many of us have written about the historical evolution of the ANC, its leagues, the polarised political environment of South Africa post 1994, how regionalism, tribalism, ageism, anti-young academics and anti-intellectualism over the past few years have shaped a potential future from bright to bleak. 

Excuse me comrades, I’m no cynic and I am still very positive about the future of the ANC, but it is of paramount prominence for us young people of South Africa to discuss another very dangerous element that has begun to creep into the vein of our vehicle to Economic Freedom: the ANCYL, that is the rise of anti-intellectualism, politics of numbers, politics of the stomach and boot lickers.   

The mother body of the ANCYL, the ANC was initially founded by organic intellectuals, intellectuals, academics, people’s representatives, people from the royal priesthood and other prominent individuals to unite Africans and fight against colonialism and imperialism.      

On 8 January 1912, hundreds of educated black South Africans met in Bloemfontein to establish a national liberation movement, an organization to fight for justice, equality and against racial discrimination.  The group comprised of  intellectuals of note such as, Josiah Gumede, Dr Rubusana (first Deputy President of ANC) and first President of ANC in the Cape Colony, Saul Msane, Pixley ka Isaka Seme and Sol Plaatje, people with political clarity and sound scientific facts. The establishment of the ANC is the most significant part of our political history as black people in main stream politics of South Africa.   

On 2 April 1944, thirty-two years later, a group of young intellectuals met to form a youth wing of the ANC, then called the Congress Youth League. An autonomous formation and independent organisation of young people of the ANC. Similar to the mother body, the founding members of the ANCLY comprised of notable intellectuals  such as O.R Tambo (Science teacher and lawyer that started law black practice with Mandela),  Nelson Mandela (lawyer) , A.P Mda (academic), Walter Sisulu (estate agent that helped Mandela to study law at University of Witwatersrand) and Anton Lambede (a lawyer who became the League’s first President).

This is a group of young intellectuals, not only by education but also organically, who galvanised young people of South Africa with an aim to step up the fight against racial segregation within the country. Their aim was to conscientise young people about the struggle for national liberation of the so called natives; and that the African youth should be united, consolidated, trained and disciplined, because from their ranks, future leaders would be recruited. Their motto was: “Africa’s cause must triumph”. 

The generation that started the ANCYL was guided by the adage that said “Freedom in our lifetime” and it was achieved. With the unholy crop of the current drivers of the ANCYL, the dream for economic freedom seems to elude us everyday because it is not guided by any sound intellectualism linked to challenges of our time.  

In practice, this group of young organic intellectuals and academics of the ANC developed a Programme of Action (POA) which involved different methods like boycotts, strikes and other defiance tactics. This group later influenced the ANC to adopt its programme of action, which represented a paradigm shift from conservative and ineffective political strategies to a radical and revolutionary mass movement. 

Even the now dead Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania that was started by the languages professor, the late Professor Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe who was the league’s Transvaal secretary, owes the genesis of its ideological stances on African Nationalism thesis which Anton Lembede advanced as the then league’s president. So it is clear that the Congress Youth League (now ANCYL) was always led by radical intellectuals who did not confuse radicalism with things like recklessness, disrespect, demagogy and loud hailing.  

For decades, the ANCYL has been playing a role of being a think tank in the politics of the ANC, hence it was a power broker in difficult times and it has always balanced leadership of society and the conduct of internal organisational matters. However, its role as an intellectual hub and fountain of fresh ideas died after the 24th National Congress in 2011 which took place in Johannesburg, Gallagher Estate, setting the agenda and clarion call for Economic Freedom in our life time.  The 24th National Congress adopted the economic freedom programme that now defines some of the ANC opposition. For example, one organisation led by former members advocates for 7 cardinal pillars as a pivotal route to fundamental transformation of the South African economy. The seven cardinal pillars comprise of the following:  

  • Expropriation of land without compensation for equitable redistribution 
  • Nationalisation for Industrialisation 
  • Inclusive and Decentralised Economic Growth and Development 
  • Land Restitution and agrarian reform 
  • Building of a Strong Developmental State and Public Service 
  • Massive investment in the development of the African economy 
  • Provision of education, skills and expertise to the people.    

Post the 24th National Congress of the ANCYL, there is a growing and disturbing trend of anti-intellectualism in the ANCLY leadership. Its the dismissal of science, merit, the arts, and humanities and their replacement by entertainment, mediocrity, stooges, self-righteousness, ignorance and deliberate gullibility for vertical advancement at the expense of transformation. This period has been steadily defined downward by a combination of here-to-fore irresistible forces. 

These include the triumph of visual spectacles like the promotion of bling culture and celebrity tendencies over sober political engagements; a disjunction between people’s rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic political concepts and policies in relation to practice, science and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism which is against logic with anti-progressive intellectualism.

It is very concerning that at the helm of the league there is lack of trendsetters in political policies or economic policies. ANC opposition, unlike in the past, boldly attacks without fear of superior logic from the league in response. The status of ANC leaders is now at the same level with Kwaito stars because being a leader of society has been relegated to the lowest common denominator of the past; mediocrity is now more pronounced than merit in the upper echelons of the organization. 

Not all is lost because the organisation can still redeem itself and minimise the damage that political Micky Mouses and comedians who lack sound intellectual credibility have done, but this will require the league to own up to its mistakes that have left the ANC vulnerable to political onslaughts from within and outside. Intellectuals are still abounding in the organisation, but have taken a backseat. It is about time that they are motivated to stand up and serve the movement in striking positions instead of resigning themselves to oblivion of government administration, professional private work, political careerism and private life – the ANCYL needs them!  

Intellectuals, young professionals and academics, especially from the student movement, must come forward to lead the organisation in this challenging period. The horrible waves of opposition threaten the hegemony of the movement. If there was any time that the ANC needed saving and services of the intellectual detachment, it is now. Young intellectuals produced by the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) structures like the student movement and trade unions should not limit themselves to ANCYL, but they should also take over other MDM organisations. For instance, young women can lead the ANCWL and make it attractive to the millennials and the born-free generations that are owning today. 

Political intellectuals to the front!  

#Phakama ntelentele… #PhakamaCreamDalaCream 

Mba is a member of the ANCYL DR Rubusana Regional Task Team and part of Provincial ANC Political Education Training Unit (PETU). Writing in his personal capacity.