One would not be mincing words when they say that the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) was the main reason why the African National Congress (ANC) as a political party was able to become the political force it is today; first playing a significant role at the forefront of the anti-apartheid struggle before becoming the ruling party of a Democratic South Africa.
In recent times, however, the ANC youth wing has been seen as a mockery of what it once was; a launching board for future leaders of the party and the country as a whole. This is due to the divisions, varying ideologies, and personal ambition of the people that have come to exist within it.
At its founding, the ANCYL was an organization of youths committed to the ideals of freedom, peace, and democracy. The league’s policies, governance, and programs were in line with that of the ANC which focused on a prosperous and democratic South Africa through a united, non-racial, and non-sexist organization.
Formation of the African National Congress Youth League
The African National Congress Youth League came into existence in 1944 when a young Nelson Mandela, Ashley Peter Mda, Anton Lembede, Walter Sisulu, and Oliver Tambo among others agreed to join the ANC and form a youth wing. Tambo became its first National Secretary while Lembede served as the founding President of the group that aimed to reform the ANC which they described as “a body of gentlemen with clean hands”.
At the time, the ANC was battling the apartheid government with petitions and demonstrations which the Youth League felt was insufficient. The group went on to propose a “Programme of Action” that advocated tactics such as boycotts, civil disobedience, strikes, and non-collaboration which proved to be more effective.
By the end of the 1940s, a number of the founding members of the Youth League had risen to join the African National Congress and taken control of proceedings. Regardless of this, the ANCYL still played a major role as they championed civil disobedience and strikes in protest to the hundreds of laws that the apartheid government had put in place to marginalize non-whites.
Past Leaders of the ANC Youth League
1. Anton Lembede (1944 – 1947)
As mentioned above, Anton Lembede was the founding president of the African National Congress Youth League. The trained lawyer created the organization’s manifesto and was looked up to by people like Mandela and Tambo before he suddenly died of cardiac arrest in 1947.
2. Peter Mda (1947 – 1950)
Ashby Peter Mda had formed a strong relationship with Lembede, working with him in creating the party’s manifesto. Following the latter’s death, Mda was named the acting president of the league before later being formally elected into the position in 1948.
3. Nelson Mandela (1950 – 1960)
Nelson Mandela was elected president of the ANCYL in 1950. During his tenure, the league began to embrace the idea of a multi-racial front against apartheid even though he had initially opposed the idea for not being Pan African. It was also during this time that the group concluded that violent action would be necessary to end apartheid and white minority rule in the country.
4. Jackie Selebi (1987 – 1991)
With most of the members of the ANCYL condemned to exile due to the banning of the group and the ANC in South Africa, the league was left without leadership for a number of years. In 1987, however, Jackie Selebi was elected as president while in exile in Zambia.
5. Peter Mokaba (1990 – 1994)
In 1991, Peter Mokabaa, who was elected as the first president of the South African Youth Congress (SAYCO) in 1987, took over the reins of the ANC youth league when it became formally established. He was responsible for uniting various youth formations in the country under the umbrella of the group.
5. Lulu Johnson (1994 – 1996)
Lulu Johnson served as the second ANCYL president after it was unbanned.
6. Malusi Gigaba (1996 – 2004)
Malusi Gigaba is another former member of various student organizations like SAYCO that went on to head the African National Congress Youth League.
7. Fikile Mbalula (2004 – 2008)
Fikile Mbalula rose from the post of secretary-general to be elected president of the ANC Youth League in August 2004. He subsequently retired from the position when he became no longer eligible to be a member.
8. Julius Malema (2008 – 2012)
One of the more notable presidents of ANCYL in recent times is Julius Malema, someone who President Zuma and other leaders have described as the future leader of South Africa. His time with the league was controversial, to say the least, and resulted in him being suspended for five years for provoking divisions and bringing disrepute to the party. He was later expelled from the ANC.
9. Collen Maine (2015 – till date)
Collen Maine is the latest leader of the youth league that has been viewed by many in recent times as being a mockery of what it once used to be. The league has lost significant support that has been attributed to the exit of Malema as well as all the corruption charges and poor performances of the elected members of the ruling party.
How to Become a Member
Membership to the African National Congress Youth League is open to South Africans between the ages of 14 to 35 who can accept its policy guidelines, aim and objectives. Applicants for membership are directed to do so via the Branch Executive Committee or Regional Executive Committee who have the authority to accept or reject an application.
Upon acceptance, the applicant is given a membership card after paying a joining fee and continue to pay an Annual Subscription Fee. On the other hand, if an applicant is rejected, they have the right to appeal to the Provincial Executive Committee within 21 working days.
The membership elapses if the person turns 35 years old, expelled, resigns, passes away, loses citizenship, or fails to pay dues up to 3 months.