Ronald Lamola | What lessons can the ANCYL learn from activist journalist Robert Resha?

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The gap between those who decide on policy and those who have to weather its effects needs to be bridged, writes Ronald Lamola. 


Comrades, today we laid to rest a leader who grew up in the ranks of the congress movement, Comrade Songezo Mjongile. In memory of Madiba, as he was fondly known, a passionate and dedicated activist of our movement, we should take tangible steps to renew our organisation.

This is a cause Comrade Songezo advocated for until his very last days.

Madiba’s death should never be in vain, we shall fondly remember him and the struggles that he waged for the betterment of the lives of our people, more in particular the youth.

Madiba’s clarion call for a renewal of the ANC resonates with the topic we are discussing today, which is: Building a strong progressive youth movement to lead the youth struggles in South Africa: Celebrating 100 years of Robert Resha.

From the onset, I want make a bold claim and state that the future of the ANC is not guaranteed without an autonomous, vibrant and highly organised Youth League.

History has repeatedly shown that without the militancy and vibrancy of the youth in our body politics, a revolution does not move at the requisite speed.

Robert Resha is described in historical records as a brave, thoughtful, powerful orator and a radical activist.

Resha is often mentioned in the same breath as comrades Alfred Nzo and Johnny Makhatini, who were renowned internationalists. Such a description of Comrade Resha mirrors or reflects the description of most firebrand leaders of the ANCYL.

It is the radicalism of Resha which should inspire those of us who live in a post-apartheid South Africa not to massage the structural issues in our economy which reinforce both racial and class inequalities, and exacerbate the landlessness of our people.

Through radical thinking, we must dismantle these structures and the challenges we have inherited, in a manner which brings highly effective solutions. Historically, the ANCYL’s dynamic approach to challenges culminated in the ANC adopting the 1949 programme of action which enabled the movement to confront the apartheid regime in a manner which went beyond the slogan Freedom in Our Lifetime.

Unfortunately, Comrade Resha did not reach freedom in his lifetime.

After being acquitted at the 1956 Treason Trial, he was exiled. Here he became a representative of the ANC, serving in Algiers and other ANC offices abroad.

On numerous occasions, he spoke on behalf of the ANC before the United Nations committees.

He unfortunately died in London on 7 December 1973. His life though, was well lived.

As an activist journalist, he wrote for various progressive newspapers and, in that vein, Comrade Resha is mentioned along the likes of John Tengo Jabavu, who published the first black owned newspaper, Imvo Zabantshundu in 1884, Solomom Tshekiso Plaatjie who published Koranta eBecoana in 1901, AK Soga and Walter Rubusana who both published Izwi Labantu in 1897 and John Langalibalele Dube who published Ilanga lase Natal in 1903 to mention but a few.

Media in hands of private capital

It is perhaps an indictment on us, this generation, that in our formative years of our democracy, we have not been able to revive or maintain this heritage of progressive journalists and publications. On the contrary, our media industry remains highly concentrated in the hands of private capital.

However, the schools of journalism do not bear the names and ideological ethos of Dube, Tengo or Resha.

In honour of this generation, we should begin to reimagine the media fraternity, as it seeks to redefine itself in the era of online and social media. Media plurality is paramount now more than ever. The need to interact with verified factual information and debates is no longer a luxury, it is directly linked to the sustainability of our democracy.

As the South African media landscape evolves, this evolution must be located within the rural and digital divide. One of things which is becoming more apparent in the digital age is that false news is likely to spread six times faster than accurate news. We should be able to analyse what impact this has on the marginalised and the poor, who may inadvertently interact with it and act on the basis of false information.

So, there is no doubt that activist journalism, such as that of Comrade Resha, which is responsive to a developing state and democracy like ours, needs to be pursued. The advent of democracy has ushered in media freedom, and we are in many ways reaping the benefits of this.

As a nation, we appreciate the role that various journalists have played in the country through investigative journalism and for exposing malfeasance and corruption. Media has at times been the mirror through which we view our own developments and enforce accountability to citizens. This is the space that we need to protect.

Generations of journalists like Comrade Resha, under very difficult conditions, laid the foundation for a free and independent media that is not biased and mired in propaganda.

They wanted the media to reflect the diverse views of our communities and also inform citizens in a manner which raises their political consciousness. It is this level of consciousness that gave rise to mass support for protests which led to the ushering of freedom and democracy in South Africa.

Today, as we engage comrades, we do so in the midst of a global pandemic resulting in significant hardships. We are not oblivious to challenges emanating from Covid-19 disruptions, which we must withstand and overcome.

A new Covid-19 normal has rendered political face-to-face engagements impossible as we adhere to restrictions meant to curb the rapid spread of this vicious and invisible killer.

Post-Covid-19, young people must lead efforts to reinvent our economy and make our democracy tangible for all. Society calls on the youth through their innovation, to forge new socio economic pacts which will alleviate some of the struggles our people are confronted with.

The ANC itself cannot effectively respond to this call as long as the ANCYL is not functioning and not in the hands of its rightful owners.

The absence of a vibrant Youth League has left a huge political vacuum in society, counter revolutionaries and opportunists are claiming a space that dutifully and rightfully belongs to the future.

This vacuum cannot be allowed to continue. Young people are crying out loud for their movement and we must heed their calls. We are saying again, the hour of youth has struck. We should all be seized with efforts to relaunch the ANCYL, failure will be a disservice to the generation of Comrade Resha.

As I had mentioned earlier, historically it is proven that the ANC is a different organisation with a fully-fledged ANCYL in its mist.

We must bring ourselves to admit the obvious reality that failure to reinvent the ANCYL will be a betrayal of the generation of Comrade Resha, Anton Lembede, Oliver Tambo, Peter Mokaba and many others.

Impact of the youth

At every defining movement of history comrades, the catalysts have been the youth.

The formation of the YL in 1944 not only resulted in a renewed ANC in 1949, it resulted in a new programme of action and ultimately the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe.

When the nation was moving into a new era with leaders of the ANC being released in the 1990s, at its relaunch, the ANCYL was categorical in its new manifesto, it said: “The present situation places an even greater responsibility on the youth. It demands of us: the building of organisations throughout our country which are deeply rooted amongst the people…” As early as the 1990s, it was decided that the new ANCYL would, like the Youth League of old, have substantial autonomy. It would have its own branches and internally elected leadership, its own conferences and resolutions whilst working within the ANC constitutional principles and disciplinary framework.

Having said that comrades, President Oliver Tambo in 1979 warned that if we are not deliberate about harnessing the political potential of the youth inside South Africa, “we will fritter away the considerable talent of our youth and lose it to reactionary politics and wasting life-styles”.

When one looks at our body politic today, I sometimes wonder if this prediction has not actually materialised.

Reactionary politics are now a yardstick for radicalism, whilst crass materialism is the life-style of the day.

Some amongst us truly believed and as matter of fact, still do believe, that Economic Freedom in our Lifetime must be understood in the context of socio-economic transformation. And in the event that such socio economic transformation excludes the youth of this country, then it is simple not viable.

This call continues to resonate broadly with our society, when the struggle for liberation was in dire constraints. It was the youth who repudiated elders and brought energy and renewal to the movement which led to militant mass action.

Today, it would be difficult to sustain an argument which postulates that the movement we love so much today is in an ideal state. It needs to be reinvigorated, it is in urgent need of renewal. Failing which will find ourselves in the same situation the ANC found itself in 1932. The organisation became so moribund, Pixely Ka Isaka Seme had to pen article which refuted a rhetorical question, Is the ANC dead?

Just like in 1944 , if we are indeed concerned about the movement today. We must give space to the youth to provide a perspective of the ANC.

The youth without interference must be allowed to ask difficult questions like how did we get here and why do we have the type of leaders and practices we see today?

One of the questions we must be earnest about is how do we future proof the Youth League from wanton disbandment.

Any frank assessment of our body politic will show that post Gallagher Estate, there was seismic shift in how the second phase of our transition should be implemented. Maybe we can even ask whether the disbandment of the Youth League derailed the second phase of our transition into a National Democratic society.

Comrades, challenges besieging our communities have been laid bare. 

Covid-19 has exacerbated them and young people are at the centre of these challenges.

These include rising levels of poverty, unemployment, failure to afford tuition fees, inequality at the workplace and lack of funding and market access for youth companies. A revamped ANCYL must subsequently give rise to optimism to young people against these myriad challenges which if not tackled, have a potential to disrupt our journey of democracy.

There is a high level of fatigue among young people and these challenges have unfortunately become broadly a norm to describe them. It has become increasingly clear that we must confront these injustices that cause squirming to our body politics and provoke unrest among the youth.

We should make the ground fertile for young people to be given greater responsibilities in a democratic society.

Reflection

Young people have been patient. Those who have learnt and understood the revolution theory required to transform this country, must be given space to practice and effectively participate in the broader politics of the country.

During the relaunch of the ANCYL following its unbanning, the national committee that was setting up branches in the country observed that: The youth can only effectively participate in the liberation of our country and get involved in the building of a democratic South Africa on the basis of totality of knowledge and experience handed over to it by old generations.

At the same time young people should not be encouraged merely to copy and assimilate what is handed over to them. They should do so through an investigative and critical approach. Can we say young people are involved in the building of a democratic South Africa?

Are they given space to lead youth struggles in South Africa? As we reflect, we need practical solutions that will equip the the youth to respond and lead the struggles of a better and prosperous South Africa.

As Duma Nokwe argued in a paper titled Problems of the Youth Movement: “The inclusion of the ANCYL in the Constitution of the ANC as an auxiliary body is correct.” Nokwe goes on to explain why it is an auxiliary body and he says: “If they were included as ‘integral parts’ of the African National Congress, it would deprive it of an opportunity of broadening its activities.”

This comrades should tell us one thing although the Youth League is that of ANC, its leadership is not exercised on the basis of political correctness as Duma Nokwe predicted if did this, “would be to ask for the liquidation of the African National Congress Youth League, and in fact all the other Congress Youth Movement”.

It is clear that the ANCYL needs to have its own programmes outside of the ANC. Later, we coined this as the twin tasks of YL.

In conclusion, we need to bridge the gap between those who decide on policy and those who have to weather its effects.

Young people have often been relegated to the margins of the South African politics. We need a fundamental change in terms of our approach towards youth inclusion in decision making structures across all echelons of society.

Unban the Youth, Unban the Future.

– This the text of a speech delievered on Friday by Ronald Lamola in his capacity as ANC National Executive Working Committee member. 

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