FRIENDS OF THE YOUTH LEAGUE: A VICTIM OF POLITICAL INTOLERANCE AND OPPORTUNISM by Malaika Wa Azania
“Freedom is always, and exclusively, freedom for the one who thinks differently.” ― Rosa Luxemburg
A child was born in Koboko in 1925. He would later change the narrative of the Afrikan continent and shape a brutal chapter of its history. He grew up in a village dominated by the Kakwa ethnic minority in the dusty streets of Uganda, receiving very little education, but determined to make his mark in the fight for the liberation of the Afrikan continent that was still under extreme colonial rule (the genuineness of that objective is still a debatable issue). In 1946 he joined the King's African Rifles, (KAR), Britain's colonial African troops. As a soldier in the KAR, this man served in Uganda, Burma, Somalia and in Kenya during the British suppression of the Mau Mau. The Mau Mau movement was Kenya's militant resistance against British colonial rule which began in 1946 as a movement agitating for the return of African land and political rights. So in essence, this man was fighting against the rebellion of peasants and low-paid labourers. He was fighting for the suppression of the exploited and colonised majority of Kenya. For his efforts, the man was promoted to being a Commander of the Ugandan army and in1971, he staged a coup against the president of his country and would, for the next 8 years, rule Uganda with an iron fist and bury it behind a cruel iron curtain. What is significant about this man’s journey, in the context of this article, is not so much how he ruled his country or even how he compromised the struggle of the Mau Mau and other liberation fighters on the Afrikan continent through his association and loyalty to the British throne. What is significant about this man, for the purpose of this article, is how he came into power and why the people of Uganda, knowing very well his role in the King’s African Rifles, would allow themselves to be subjected to his leadership. The debate can be launched on the premise that shortly after his ascension to power, the man rid himself of British influence in favour of an alliance with the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics, at the time seen as the anti-thesis to Western ideology. But the question of whether this man was himself a Socialist would need to be asked. The answer is no. The man was a Nationalist.
Idi Amin was a man with a golden tongue, who swept his fanatical followers to frenzy. When Amin was paraded around the streets of Uganda shortly after the violent over-throw of his predecessor, Milton Obote, the jubilation of the masses could be felt through the crispy air all across the rolling mountains of Uganda. This senseless jubilation remains a mystery to scholars of Afrikan history, for Obote was no dictator and in fact, his Socialist orientation and his relentless fight against the British administration ought to have made him the favourite of the peasants and the poor, the majority of the people of Uganda. But it was not to be so. An appreciation of history has taught us that more often than not, the people err in choice of leadership as a result of propaganda and a lack of strong political consciousness, only to awaken later and rectify the error of their ways and choices. Nonetheless, when Amin was presented to the people of Uganda, they were engulfed by euphoria, believing in the Promised Land that he had painted for them when he was trying to win their support and loyalty.
After 8 years of a leadership that had been characterised by violence and intolerance, the people of Uganda could no longer ignore the glaring reality of a collapsed economy and infrastructure. They began to rebel against Amin. Many of his ministers and political advisors fled Uganda and many of those who remained soon became dissatisfied with Amin’s leadership. His army staged a mutiny and many prominent Ugandan people exiled in Tanzania and other neighbouring states. Amin, tortured by paranoia, accused Tanzanian leader Julius Nyerere of attempting to stage a coup against him and as a result, declared war on Tanzania. This was to be his last attempt at regaining power. In 1979, Nyerere mobilised the Tanzania People's Defense Force and counterattacked. He was assisted by several groups of Ugandan exiles who had united as the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA). Amin's army, significantly smaller despite the assistance of Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gadhafi’s own national army, was forced to retreat and surrender. As a result of the failed attempt at regaining power, Amin was forced to flee to exile in Saudi Arabia. Upon learning of Amin’s fate, the people of Uganda were once again dancing on the streets, jubilant at the fall of the giant. The appointment of Amin’s successor Yusufu Lule, was received with the exact attitude that Amin’s had been received. The same euphoria, the same expectations, the same pride was channeled towards the celebrations. A year later, Obote returned to lead the people of Uganda. Once again, the same euphoria, the same expectations and the same joy was expressed for a man whom Amin had overthrown, the same man on whose coffin they had danced when Amin promised them a better life. One journalist wrote an article with a headline that has always captured my attention:
TO THE SOUND OF CHEERS, DEMOCRACY DIES!
This prophetic line would prove itself Machiavellian when, upon his return, Obote would evolve into a figure no different to his predecessor. His second rule was characterised by repression and oppression. His attacks on civilians and the militarisation of Uganda would result in a civil war known as the Ugandan Bush War, which lasted for 5 grueling years.
TO THE SOUND OF CHEERS, DEMOCRACY DIES
Almost 33 years after the demise of Amin in Uganda, a similar situation is playing itself out in the south of the Afrikan continent, in a country revered for its democracy and ability to rise above the brutality of repression. The people of South Afrika, like the people of Uganda, are cheering as the democracy that they fought for dies. And like the people of Uganda, the oblivion to the ramifications of this cheering is very pronounced, albeit extremely dangerous. The educated and the illiterate, the politically conscious and the depoliticised, are all victims of propaganda so severe that if it is not arrested at its infancy, has the potential to lead this country’s democracy to the dustbins of history.
A year ago, the most unfortunate thing happened in South Afrika, which would not only shift the paradigm of South Afrikan politics, but would also re-write the narrative of the oppressed native majority of this country. A leader of the youth wing of Afrika’s oldest liberation movement, the African National Congress (ANC) was expelled from the movement and forced to cease his role as the national president of the ANC Youth League. For reasons known (and unknown) to the populace of this country, Julius Malema was expelled from the ANC for unfortunate utterances that he had made about the Botswana government that enjoys a historical relationship with the former National Liberation Movement.
The fact that is not told to the masses of South Afrikan people is that the three main opposition parties in Botswana, the Botswana National Front (BNF), the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), openly supported Malema’s call for opposition party cooperation to democratically remove the Botswana Democratic Party, led by president Ian Khama, from power. The national Chairperson of the BMD, Nehemiah Modubule, had this to say about Malema’s statement:
“It is instructive that Mr Malema’s statement follows that of the CSIS. Our analysis of the situation is that the international community is now embracing the need and inevitability of a change of government. Finally the imminent mortality of the BDP government has attracted international attention.” (The Botswana Gazette, Wednesday 3rd August 2011)
Comrade Modubule was referring to a report of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), commissioned by the United States’ Africa Command (AFRICOM) which had stated that the combined opposition (BNF, BMD and BCP) will take power from the ruling party. However, this is a discussion for another day. Nonetheless, the ANC National Disciplinary Committee expelled Malema for “bring the organisation into disrepute” amongst other things, as well as suspended the national Spokesperson of the YL, comrade Floyd Shivambu and the Secretary General, comrade Sindiso Magaqa. There were those within and outside the ANCYL who celebrated the demise of Malema, for he had been seen by many as an autocratic leader who had dealt the same fate to former leaders of the YL. They argued that Malema’s intolerance for opposition and dissent characterised his leadership and that he was polarising the country. Some sections of the population, both within and outside the ANCYL, felt differently about the verdict. They argued that while indeed Malema had crossed the line, a political solution was needed to address the matter and that expulsion was an extreme and harsh way of dealing with a situation that could have been resolved by other means. Some, like the author of this article, felt that it was necessary for the survival of the ANC that no leader is allowed to get away with undermining the ANC as Malema had done at times, but that his role as a leader of young people and his contributions to our struggles remains relevant. This view that we hold is informed by the posture of the ANCYL under his leadership.
Under the leadership of Julius Malema, the ANCYL was able to accomplish a feat that no other organisation, the ANC included, had been able to accomplish in the current dispensation. It was able to awaken the political consciousness of the oppressed native majority, to return the retina to the eyes of a people who had succumbed to a state of defeatism. The reality of the situation – and it is a reality that is conveniently ignored by many of our people – is that while South Afrika is a politically democratic country, the economy of this country is still constructed as it was during the apartheid regime. The bulk majority of the country’s wealth remains in the hands of a minority and the most fundamental resource, land, has also not been returned to the country’s native population, or even been redistributed equally at best. What the political break-through of 1994 achieved, significant though it may be, remains insufficient for as long as structural inequalities continue to exist. Dr Pallo Jordan, a former National Executive Committee member of the ANC put it most aptly when he said:
“Privilege has been de-racialised, but poverty has a race. It is Black.” ( 2008, Behind the Rainbow Nation)
It is for this reason, amongst other things, that some of us feel that Malema, who had dedicated his leadership to the politicisation of the native majority in particular, is very relevant to the current political milieu of our country.
Part of the reason why South Afrika finds itself unable to tackle the contradictions that are a result of the apartheid legacy is that we are perpetually pathologising the conditions of the oppressed and removing them from their socio-economic roots. As a result, we fall victim to the neo-liberal idea that racism and classism are peripheral issues that will only be resolved through “development” as opposed to the in-depth interrogation of our history in a quest to create strategies for a more sustainable and equal South Afrika. Sadly, the people who celebrate Malema’s demise fail to take this into consideration. More than that, they fail to recognise that setting a precedence where voices of dissent are dealt with this harshly by the ruling party is a recipe for disaster for the youth of South Afrika which, for the struggle of economic freedom that lies ahead, has the responsibility and the duty to be militant in actions and radical in views. Unfortunately, the same youth that is expected to inherit the country from its current leaders, who have shown utter disregard for dissent on a number of occasions, is the youth that cheers to the sounds of the murder of democracy.
FRIENDS OF THE YOUTH LEAGUE, A VICTIM OF POLITICAL INTOLERANCE AND OPPORTUNISM
The expulsion of Malema and suspension of Shivambu and Magaqa cause a ripple effect of anger amongst some young people who believe in the importance of having a militant leadership to drive the agenda of economic emancipation. The result of this was the articulation of views across mediums of communication. ANC NEC members the likes of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela made their opinions known by the public. I have always argued, and I continue to do so, that the actions of mama Winnie are an expression of ill-discipline for a person who occupies the privileged position that she occupies. However, it is important that even within the rot of ill-discipline, we salvage the important message that she was conveying, that the censorship of the leadership of the YL is a calamity that none dare support, for it eats away at the very heart of the South Afrikan struggle that claimed the lives of many of our people: the struggle for democracy and an end to injustice and tyranny.
One of the things that emerged from the Malema expulsion and the suspension of other YL leaders is a group called the Friends of the Youth League (FYL), which was initially started as a group where dejected (for lack of a better word) members of the YL converged to discuss the politics of their organisation. However, very shortly thereafter, the FYL evolved into a group open to the public which shifted its aim from discussing the outcomes of the ANCYL NEC disciplinary hearing to discussing general politics of the Mass Democratic Movement and other topical issues that affect the society. It must be emphasised that there is nothing wrong with both the FYL’s evolution and the nature of politics that it discusses. The reasons are simply this:
· Every formation, political or otherwise, undergoes a process of evolution where its initial objective is negated in favour of another. An example is the ANC itself. There is no truth to the belief that the ANC began as a National Liberation Movement. When we engage the literature of the ANC from 1912 to at least 1920, it is evident that the objective of the ANC was to ensure that the native majority benefits from the colonial system and that the Black intelligentsia is accorded the same privilege that the settler elite is accorded, on the basis that both are “civilised”. The ANC would only later evolve from that civil rights movement posture and orientation to being a militant movement that is aimed at the abolition of the colonial system. Equally, there are many Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) that began with the aim of achieving a certain objective and would later change their posture and even orientation. One of them is Khanya College, which I had the privilege of working for. Founded in 1986 as an alternative education provider for student activists who were being marginalised by institutions of higher learning that were still very racist in nature, Khanya would later provide political education for trade unions and civil society movements and today, is involved in various struggles including the environmental issues. It is for this reason that judging the FYL for what it began as, rather than what it has since evolved into, is senseless and to a great extent, opportunistic.
· The politics that are discussed by the FYL are politics that every citizen of this country is discussing. The reality of the situation is that the ANC is the leader of the MDM and the ruling party in this country. It therefore sets the agenda for what becomes the national political discourse. There is nothing unusual, or even suspicious, in the FYL as a social platform, engaging on discussions that may be related to the ANC. All of us, in one way or another, respond to the ANC’s agenda, directly or indirectly. Even trade unions, NGOs and civil society in general has its political discourse set by the politics of the ANC-led alliance. The fight against e-tolls that was so courageously waged by COSATU and civil society movements was set by the ANC. The fight by Section 21 and Equal Education with the Limpopo textbook saga was set by the ANC. Every topic that is taking place in this country, whether directly or indirectly, is informed by the actions or the inactions of the ANC. The isolation of the FYL is thus suspicious and troubling, because it not only exposes the hypocrisy of our population and leadership, but also sets off an alarm that signals danger for dissent, and danger for dissent means danger for democracy.
It is for these two reasons that the scathing attacks that have been coming on the way of the FYL are dangerous for our democracy and the well-being of this country. They expose a lot of dangers in the heart of our society, among them opportunism and political intolerance. It is very disturbing that national figures the likes of Young Communist League national Secretary, Buti Manamela, have gone on record and in public, demonising the FYL and portraying it as some monster that is going to devour the ANC. But he is not alone. Many have followed in this dangerous line, including several government officials and most disturbingly, young people who are heirs to the decisions that are made by the elders within the ANC. There is an attempt to silence and destroy the FYL and the method of operation is spreading fear about its intentions and using the most ruthless propaganda techniques to paint it as something that it is not. And as an avid follower of the group and a close friend and comrade with its founders, I will tell you what the FYL is not.
· FYL is not an opposition to the ANC as is being projected. It does not have any constitutional mandate or policies or anything else that characterises political formations. It is simply a social group where young people converge to discuss politics.
· FYL is not about Julius Malema despite his expulsion having inspired its formation. It is about the expression of the views of young people.
· FYL is not a parallel structure of the ANCYL. This belief that it is seeks to spread fear about the FYL which is not justified. Many of us who are FYL members are not, have never been and have no desire to become members of the YL. We are, however, citizens of the Republic of South Afrika who share similar views and who have an appreciation for political debates. We are members of that group for the same reason that some people are members of the Orlando Pirates Fan Club. There is nothing sinister about our association with the group and attempts to project that false reality will not be taken lightly.
· FYL is not anti-ANC. There are members of FYL who are die-hard supporters of the ANC and who make it a point to defend the ANC where they believe it is being judged unfairly. Their views are as welcome as those that some of us express which are not in favour of the ANC. In almost a year of following the group, I have never encountered a mob attack on anyone who did not agree with the views raised at any point, regarding any particular discussion.
With this understanding of what the FYL is not, why is there such a vigorous hostility towards it? This is a question that has not been answered by anyone. All that has been said is purely fabricated propaganda that is aimed at isolating people who don’t agree with those who stand to benefit from the demonization of this mere social group. To liken the FYL to the Congress of the People (COPE) as was done by Manamela and as is being insinuated by other leaders and general population is to divorce truth from falsification. There is absolutely NO SIMILARITY between the FYL and COPE. And when government officials and prominent activists sell that lie to people, we must be afraid, for as former president of the United Snakes of AmeriKKKa, Harry Truman once said:
“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
A country with such a young democracy cannot place itself in a position where its revolutionary gains are reversed to benefit nefarious agendas set by people who have no interests in serving the people. And a people who are on the receiving end of the brutality of those leaders have no business defending the image of those leaders. The truth of the matter is that nothing that the FYL and all other social groups and political movements say about the ANC is a fabrication. When citizens of South Afrika converge on Facebook or any other platform to vent out about the ANC, there is nothing wrong with that. If the ANC and its leaders want to stop people from doing that, it should deliver to the people and in that way, cease criticism levelled at it. To want to isolate and censor people for expressing what is true is the height of tyranny. But worse still, for representatives of the oppressed to mobilise their constituency around a lie to serve the interests of the actual antagonists is a cruel injustice to society and the height of undermining our collective intelligence. We cannot sit back and watch as we are lied to and censored without any justification. Singling out FYL as a “danger to the ANC” for having unfavourable views about the current ANC leadership when there are hundreds of social groups that have the same views as the FYL should indicate to us that there is a serious attempt to persecute the group and its members. Silencing the FYL is unprincipled, unconstitutional, undemocratic, unfair, unwarranted, unethical and downright unacceptable.
Those demonising the FYL must be aware that when you tear out a man's tongue, you are not proving him a liar. You're only telling the world that you fear what he might say.
Malaika Wa Azania
Daughter of the soil
Cell phone: 076 538 1557 or 079 421 3415