MESSAGE TO THE YOUTH LEAGUE FROM THE TREASURER GENERAL
KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY THE ANC TREASURER GENERAL, PAUL MASHATILE, ON THE OCCASION OF THE 76TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ANC YOUTH LEAGUE
10 September 2020
Members of the ANC National Youth Task Team
Provincial, Regional and branch structures of the ANC Youth League
The Leadership and membership of SASCO, COSAS, the Young Communist League and the Progressive Youth Alliance
The young people of our country
Comrades and Compatriots:
On this day, 76 years ago, a group of young people in their mid-twenties to early thirties gathered at the Bantu Men’s Social Club in Johannesburg and brought to life a youth movement that was to become a powerful force behind the African National Congress.
On this day we are celebrating more than seven decades of militant, informed and disciplined struggles by the ANC Youth League to champion the interests of young people.
Comrades, it was at a December 1943 meeting of the ANC in Bloemfontein that youth leaders of the Congress movement put forward a proposal that stated that: "… henceforth it shall be competent for the African youth to organise and establish Provincial Conferences of the Youth League with a view of forming a National Congress of the Youth League immediately.”
This heralded the birth of the ANC Youth League whose 76thAnniversary we are celebrating today.
The birth of this giant organization of young people was a watershed moment in the history of our country.
It was also a defining moment, a land mark, a turning point and a historic milestone in the South African struggle for national liberation.
Throughout history, the Congress Youth League has been able to mobilize and organize young people into a potent force for change.
The essence of what the ANC Youth League was, was captured by former President Nelson Mandela in his address to the Annual Conference of the League in December 1951 when he said: “As the guardian of African nationalism, the Congress Youth League … [is] the greatest hope that the African people, and indeed all oppressed people, have that they will ever live in a free, independent, united, democratic, and a prosperous South Africa. The Congress and the Youth League are the instruments through which these aims will be achieved.”
On this special occasion, as we walk down memory lane tracing the history of this vibrant, militant and disciplined youth movement of the ANC, it is fitting that we pay tribute to its founding members.
They include Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, A.P. Mda, Anton Lembede, Mxolisi Majombozi, Dan Tloome, Jordan Ngubane, William Nkomo, David Bopape and others.
We also pay tribute to the successive generation of leaders who guided the Youth League through its more than 7 decades of existence.
Many of these leaders went on to become leaders as well as heroes and heroines in the broader national struggle for liberation.
They include young lions of the caliber of Jackie Selebi, Peter Mokaba, Parks Mankahlana, Ephraim Mogale, Simphiwe Mthimkhulu, Emma Sathekge, Stanza Bopape, Ephraim Nkwe, Bongani Kumalo and many others who took over the baton of struggle form those who founded the ANC Youth League in 1944.
We also remember the many youth congresses that continued to mobilize young people at the time when the liberation movement was banned.
The youth congresses were an integral part of that broad ensemble of progressive formations that led the final push towards the demise of apartheid.
I am referring here to militant formations such as the Western Cape Youth Congress – which was the first youth Congress to be formed in 1983 -, the Port Elizabeth Youth Congress, the Uitenhage Youth Congress, the Soweto Youth Congress, the Alexandra Youth Congress and many others.
Also on this day we remember proudly those millions of cadres who over the years made up the membership of the ANC Youth League.
They were the body, soul and life blood of the organization.
They too played an integral part in our national struggle for liberation.
Also on this occasion we recall the Youth League Manifesto adopted in March 1944.
Among others, the Youth League Manifesto asserted, profoundly, that the conflict in South Africa was fundamentally a racial one between whites and blacks, who represented opposite political and philosophical poles.
The oppressors, whites, represented a philosophy of personal achievement and individualism that fuelled fierce competition.
On the other hand the oppressed Africans embodied a philosophy of communalism and societal harmony where society's needs were favored over those of the individual.
The Manifesto contended that because whites had defined their domination in terms of race, this had led the African to view his problems and those of his country through the perspective of race.
The Manifesto was also critical of the belief by some ANC leaders – especially the elders – that change could come through compromise and accommodation.
The Youth Leaguers of the time charged that senior ANC leaders had grown remote and aloof from the African community.
They were trapped between their apprehensions over losing the few privileges that the government had granted them.
They had qualms over mass African protest aimed at bringing down the wrath of the government.
The Manifesto concluded that the result of all of this was that ANC leaders had become suspicious of progressive thought and action and offered no innovative policies or strategies for combatting oppressive legislation.
It further concluded that ANC leaders had drifted away from the ANC's original vision and purpose.
Comrades, the Manifesto of the ANC Youth League marked the beginning of the process of radicalizing the ANC and positioning it as an activist movement; a people’s movement; and a fighting movement.
Perhaps what was most profound about the Manifesto of the Youth League was that rather than calling on people to defect from the ANC, it invited Youth Leaguers to remain loyal and serve as the “brains-trust and power-station of the spirit of African nationalism" and infuse the ANC with a new spirit.
Comrades, from this we learn that throughout history, the ANC Youth League has been an integral part of influencing and shaping the revolutionary outlook of the ANC.
History records that it was the Youth Leaguers who in the aftermath of the 1946 mine workers strike introduced a resolution at the ANC national conference calling on members serving on the Natives Representative Council to resign, immediately.
This was in line with the League’s determination to secure full political rights for Africans.
Although the resolution put forward by the Youth League was overwhelmingly defeated, the League never relented on pursuing a radical agenda within the ANC.
In this regard we know that it was the Youth League that played a major role in the conceptualization and implementation of the Defiance Campaign of the 1950s.
Equally, many Youth League members played a key role in mobilizing towards and in the adoption of the Freedom Charter – that seminal document outlining an alternative to apartheid South Africa.
It was also young people, especially after the 1976 youth uprisings, and young people from the various youth congresses across the country, who swelled the ranks of Umkhonto Wesizwe.
Comrades, the history of the ANC Youth League stands as testimony to the constructive role the organized youth of a country can and should play in helping to shape the course of that society.
The youth of any society have the generational benefit of abundant energy, better education, innovation, fresh ideas and often an impatient idealism.
It is these characteristics that, at their best, equip young people to play a catalytic role in society.
The Youth League must be able to harness these characteristics of young people.
Historically, the Youth League has been a vehicle through which young people unleash their inherent energy to change society.
As we know, throughout history young people have been at the driving seat and at the cutting edge of efforts to bring about change.
Over many generations young people have changed the course of history; in the process writing their own history.
Many of them have taken it upon themselves, as directed by Frantz Fanon, to, out of relative obscurity, discover their mission, fulfil it or betray it.
Many have been trail blazers – they have shown the rest of society the way.
In this regard we recall, among others, that it was a young African music composer, Enoch Sontonga, who at the age 24, composed the first verse and chorus of Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika.
This song inspired the struggles to build the Africa we want; the Africa and South Africa of our dreams.
We also recall another young man, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, who, at the age of 30, penned two profound articles that changed the course of our history as the African people: “Native Union” and “The Regeneration of Africa”.
These seminal works gave momentum to the formation of the South African National Native Congress, which was later known as the African National Congress.
Pixley ka Isaka Seme’s message, relayed more than a century ago, still remains relevant today.
In the same vein it was the youth of the 1940s – the youth we are commemorating today – who changed the course of the liberation struggle; by calling for radical methods of struggle against the apartheid regime.
Equally, we continue to pay tribute to the 1976 generation of young people for their bravery and defiant spirit.
With their bare hands, they faced the might of the apartheid police, demanding an end to Bantu Education.
These young people took their destiny in their own hands. They changed the course of history.
We will never forget the contribution of the Young Lions of the 1980s, whose fearlessness forced the apartheid state to negotiate a peaceful settlement to end apartheid oppression.
We also acknowledge the contribution of many young white South Africans who, in the 1970s and 1980s, took part in the anti-conscription campaign and joined the ranks of the student movement under the banner of NUSAS, in defiance of the apartheid state.
They too took their destiny in their own hands. They changed the course of history.
In the past few years, we have seen especially in the Middle East and North Africa, that it was young people who sparked and led what became known as the Arab Spring.
It is also young people who are leading the global #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Also in our country it was young people who led the #RhodesMustFall Movement and the #FeesMustFall Movement.
I am raising all of these things to highlight the power of young people to bring about progressive change.
It is this inherent power of young people, their energy and enthusiasm that gives us hope that the future of our country and our movement – the African National Congress – will be better than our past.
As we have now entered the second and more radical phase of our ongoing struggle towards a National Democratic Society, we look up to young people, organized under the banner of the ANC Youth League, to be among the leading forces that drive the national effort to advance radical socioeconomic transformation.
In calling our young people to action, let us recall the wise words of Anton Lembede when he said:
“We are not called to peace comfort and enjoyment, but to hard work struggle and sweat. We need young men and women of high moral stamina and integrity; of courage and vision. In short we need warriors. This means we need to develop a new type of youth of stoical discipline, trained to endure suffering and difficulty. It is only this type of youth that will achieve the national liberation of the African people.”
On this special occasion of the 76th anniversary of the ANC Youth League, we call on the current generation of young people to take over the baton of struggle from those brave young people that came before them.
The ANC Youth League, in particular, must be at the forefront of efforts to renew and unite the ANC.
It is true comrades and as we have leant from history, the renewal of the ANC will not happen without a vibrant ANC Youth League.
Like the youth of the 1940’s, Youth Leaguers of today must infuse a new spirit in the ANC.
At all times young people must ensure that the ANC does not grow remote and aloof from the people.
Young people must dedicate their energy towards building a strong ANC that places people first.
The Youth League must be unrelenting in driving the programme of restoring the ANC to its historic values; that have kept it alive for more than 108 years – the values of hard work, unity, selflessness, sacrifice, accountability, democratic debate, criticism and self-criticism.
Young people of the ANC must help in restoring the revolutionary morality of our movement; to fight corruption and to build an ethical ANC.
The Youth League must continue to serve as vehicle for young people to play their full transformative role in the political life and leadership structures of our movement.
We also look up to the ANC Youth League to mobilize all of society in the fight against gender based violence, femicide and the abuse of women and children.
Let the young people of today declare boldly that they are the generation that will put an end to the scourge of gender-based violence.
Part of our response to gender-based violence must be the urgent need to fast track the economic empowerment of women and young girls.
Young people, organized under the banner of the ANC Youth League, must be at the forefront and at the cutting edge of the ongoing fight against racism in all its manifestations in our country.
Once again, the young people of today must declare boldly that they are the generation that will put an end to racism in all its manifestations.
It also remains the task of the ANC Youth League to mobilize and organize the young people of South Africa in the broadest and most inclusive fashion.
Indeed the prominent voice and presence of the ANC Youth League is required in all corners of our country and everywhere where young people are gathered.
The Youth League must be a home for professional young people, working young people, young people at school and in universities, young people in sport as well as young people in places of worship.
Indeed the ANC Youth League must be everywhere!
The Youth League must also strengthen the alliance with progressive youth formations such as COSAS, SASCO and the Young Communist League.
Comrades, one of the pressing and immediate challenges of our time is our response to the COVID 19 crisis.
The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on human life.
Many young people have been at the forefront in the fight against the pandemic, as essential workers.
We salute these young people who are prepared to risk their own lives to save the lives of others.
COVID-19 is also having a devastating impact on economies across the globe.
On Tuesday StatsSA released the second quarter GDP numbers.
They show that our economy shrunk by a massive by 51% on an annualized basis.
We applaud our government for putting in place measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
These measures have saved many lives. They have also prevented our country from having an out-of-control pandemic.
Going forward our task, which young people must play an important role in, is to ensure that our economy recovers and that it is reconstructed.
As the ANC we are mobilizing all stakeholders in building a new, fast growing, inclusive economy that prioritizes expanded investment in infrastructure that meet the basic needs of the people of South Africa.
We are prioritizing climate resilience; industrialization through localization; transformation; mass job creation; support for small business, cooperatives and the informal sector.
Equally we continue to promote the objectives of Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment as well as greater integration into the African continent, taking advantage of the Africa Free Trade Agreement.
The success of the economic recovery and reconstruction effort will depend on among others:
- Maintaining government spending while redirecting it towards critical programmes for economic and social development;
- Effective resource mobilization including crowding in private sector investment in infrastructure delivery as well as mobilizing the broader savings industry to invest in high impact developmental projects;
- Ensuring more effective use of the credit guarantee scheme established with banks to promote growth and ensure business continuity as far as possible; and
- Building partnerships across all sectors.
Ultimately, our goal is not merely to return our economy to where it was before the coronavirus, but to forge a new economy in a new global reality.
Young people must be among the key drivers and beneficiaries of the new economy we are building.
SMMEs and cooperatives, especially those owned by women, youth and people with disabilities must benefit from the massive infrastructure roll out that is an integral part of the economic recovery and reconstruction effort.
Young people must be equipped with the skills required by our changing economy.
We also need more young entrepreneurs to take advantage of opportunities presented by the new economy we are building.
Comrades, as we celebrate the 76th anniversary of the ANC Youth League, the task of rebuilding structures of the Youth League is more urgent.
We need young people to be at the forefront of rebuilding the ANC Youth League and its structures.
Young people must also lead efforts towards the renewal of our movement.
As I conclude, I wish once again to borrow from the words of President Mandela, who was also one of the founding members of the ANC Youth League when he said: “The Congress Youth League [is] the greatest hope that the African people, and indeed all oppressed people, have that they will ever live in a free, independent, united, democratic, and a prosperous South Africa. The Congress and the Youth League are the instruments through which these aims will be achieved.”
Let the ANC Youth League continue to inspire hope amount the young people of our country.
Let it be an effective instrument for the total emancipation of the people of South Africa.
I wish members of the ANC Youth League a Happy 76thAnniversary.
May this giant movement of young people grow in leaps and bounds!