There was something of a fuss in the South African white capitalist press (for so they may best be described) about the recent ANC Youth League Congress in which their middle-aged President Fikile Mbalula replaced himself with his henchman Julius Malema. The Mail and Guardian amused themselves by jeering at Mbalula’s plagiarism of an OXFAM document in an article he pretended to write for the ANC’s newsletter Umrabulo. Most newspapers jeered at the conflict which arose at the Congress, the fighting, the insults, the renewed evidence of fraudulent credentials and falsified branch records. White capitalists don’t like the Youth League. They never have.
The Creator doesn’t like them either, of course. However, there are some reasons for this which have nothing to do with racism or greed, or whatever motives led right-wing cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro to draw a vicious sketch of Mbalula announcing his departure after four years of spouting nonsense. It was an amusing cartoon (which is rare with Shapiro, these days) but it was politically completely and deliberately misleading (which is almost invariable with Shapiro, these days).
Mbalula and the Youth League have played an important role in Zuma’s power-play; they have delivered the smears. It is true that various figures in Zuma’s camp, such as the Shaik family, have also smeared the Mbeki camp, but these people have been insignificant as office-bearers, at least. (When Mo Shaik announced that the Zuma camp might consider keeping Trevor Manuel on, Manuel caustically thanked him and inquired at what stage Shaik had begun to dominate the National Executive Committee!)
The point about the Youth League is that it superficially appears to be an important element of the ANC — one can always pretend to be well-informed by pointing out that it was the Youth League which transformed the party in the 1940s. Hence the press can justify running any lie told by a Youth league executive member as if it were valuable news. Therefore the Youth League has been a constant source of disinformation on behalf of Zuma, because the press has been able to present their statements as official ones. It was not necessary for anything Mbalula said to be true; the press has made no attempt to assess the validity of any pro-Zuma propaganda, at least not up until Mbeki’s downfall.
However, this should be a tactical issue. That is, the ANC Youth League should have considered that it had something to gain by backing Zuma, and should have chosen its role as smearer and spoiler as the most appropriate to its talents in the run-up to Polokwane. It should not have decided that this was its objective forever.
This is where Mbalula’s article comes in. The Youth League, like the rest of the clique around Zuma, claims to be devoted to the interests of the poor. It particularly claims to hold these opinions in sharp opposition to the Mbeki camp; it claimed to oppose Mbeki because he did not care about the poor. This nebulous expression of vaguely liberal philanthropy was the rationale behind the struggle leading up to Polokwane, and the reason why avowed leftists across the world applauded Zuma’s victory. One would have hoped that Mbalula knew what he was talking about.
It appears not. “A Hurdle Race Rigged Against The Poor”, the article which Mbalula “wrote”, is not really an expression of any of these things. Obviously the fact that Mbalula copied it (or, more realistically, had it copied by a PA) from somewhere else, is a very bad sign. If Mbalula is really so passionate about the “poor” and their rights he surely possesses enough energy and enthusiasm to write his own article. If he feels the need to copy one from somewhere else, this suggests that he doesn’t much care about the poor, at least not enough to do any actual work for them, even on so limited a level as writing a short article.
All right, it may be said; but is this such a big deal? The Creator has heard that Thabo Mbeki did not himself write his “I Am An African” speech; does it matter that Mbalula did not write his article? Isn’t it important that Mbalula is at least expressing righteous opinions, even if they are acquired from somewhere else? Isn’t this “postmodern intertextuality”?
Unfortunately it is a big deal. The OXFAM article is about global trade. It concerns the fact that rich people in Western countries are subsidising their domestic economies, or stealthily protecting them with concealed tariffs, so as to exclude poorer countries (and hence, nominally, poorer people, although this is not always the case). To what extent does this apply to “the poor” in South Africa?
The answer is, indirectly at best. South African exports are mainly primary products, the products of mines and farms. Approximately 90% of these mines and farms are owned by whites, and the bulk of the high-salaried employees administering them are also whites. To de-racialise, these are commercial operations designed to benefit the wealthiest bourgeoisie. No doubt, in an ideal world, reducing tariffs in rich places would benefit the poor on those mines and farms, but this is not an ideal world, and the recent spike in commodity prices has certainly not shown much profit for the poor (although immense profit for the rich). Hence, Mbalula has chosen to plagiarise an article on a subject which provides no comfort or cheer for poor South Africans (although immense benefit for rich South Africans with big corporate connections, of whom Mbalula is one). It’s almost as if he is doing this on purpose.
Incidentally, the issue which he raises here is also one which is completely uncontroversial within the ANC. Thabo Mbeki has endorsed it. Trevor Manuel has endorsed it. Alec Erwin has endorsed it. If Mbalula is attempting to explain why he decided to denounce the Mbeki wing of the party in vicious and all but obscene terms, he is failing to do so. Indeed, nothing in the article suggests that Mbalula has any real objection to Mbeki on ideological or policy grounds. In that case, one must speculate on what the grounds might be, and such speculation is not appealing. (The most likely answer is, personal gain.)
So much for the hype around the article. What of the hype around the Congress? Here we enter into the realm of speculation, where the Creator is supreme. (To your limited perception, as the Medium Lobster of Fafblog fame would say.)
We have been told certain useful facts about the ANCYL in addition to all the bumf around bottle-throwing and insult-mongering. We have been told that whereas the official figure of branches was over 2 000, the actual figure of branches was somewhere around 1 600. We were also told that about 500 of the 2 500-odd delegates to the Congress were disallowed. (Curiously, these seemed to be all delegates who supported the candidate challenging Mbalula’s favoured candidate.) We have also been told that Kgalema Motlanthe, Zuma’s right-hand man and the SACP candidate for the national Presidency, read the Youth League the riot act, but in vain. (Thus, seemingly, distancing the Zuma camp from any embarrassments which might arise later.) On the face of it, this doesn’t seem all that much worse than what happened at Polokwane, which everyone on the Left has certified as a free and fair famous victory.
Except for one other fact; the fact that the only branches “in good standing” in the ANCYL are in KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.
What does this actually mean? In the ANC, a “branch” is 100 members. Thus, when the ANCYL claims 1 600 branches, it is claiming 160 000 members, about a third of the ANC’s current membership. This is awfully impressive, provided that these branches are in good standing. Apparently, however, they aren’t. If they aren’t, presumably they have fewer members than 100. How much fewer? Nobody has said.
The Youth League obviously ought to flourish most profoundly in densely-populated urban and peri-urban areas with strong ANC support. This is because such areas have reliable transport and centralised schooling systems. In order of size, one would expect these to be Gauteng, the cities of the Eastern Cape, Cape Town in the Western Cape, the Durban/Midlands area of KwaZulu-Natal, Bloemfontein, Potchefstroom/Klerksdorp, Nelspruit, Polokwane, and Kimberley. (The Durban/Midlands area ranks unusually low because of the strong Inkatha Youth Brigade presence in the area, whereas in most other areas there is no significant competitor to the ANCYL.)
The Eastern Cape, the second-strongest area, is left out because its executive was disbanded in view of its support for Thabo Mbeki (democracy is not the ANCYL’s strongest point). But it should not be. An organisation does not disintegrate just because its executive is found lacking in desired qualities. According to the Conference, however, there are virtually no branches in good standing there. Ditto in Gauteng, where the executive does nevertheless survive. (Interestingly, Gauteng also has an extraordinarily low membership in the broader ANC — unlike the Eastern Cape, where the broader ANC is strong). The Western Cape, too, where the ANC is divided but powerful, has no functioning ANCYL branches. So the KwaZulu-Natal area appears strongest.
But then one has to leave out the Free State, the North-West and Mpumalanga, all of whom have non-functioning branches (particularly interesting given that the first and last of these supported Zuma along with the Youth League) before one comes to Limpopo. This is bizarre. Limpopo is a huge province of scattered small towns. It must be difficult to hold solid Youth League branches together and check up that they are what they claim to be. Yet this province is second only to KwaZulu-Natal in influence in the Youth League. How can this be? (And how is it that this province went solidly for Mbeki before Polokwane? Why did this have no influence on its Youth League?)
The most rational conclusion to draw from this is that the ANC Youth League is not dysfunctional in seven provinces only, but in all nine provinces. Rather, there was the capacity to build up a bloc of support in KwaZulu-Natal because of tribal and capitalist support for Zuma in that province, and the need to build up a block in Limpopo because that was where the ANC National Conference was being held and the ANCYL needed a large rent-a-crowd there. (The Youth League is strapped for cash, having been required to pay back funds to the estate of its murdered former banker Brett Kebble, and organising buses from outside the province might have been tricky.)
What thus seems to be the case is that the ANC Youth League is itself nothing but an immense fraud; that its Conference was simply a fake, attended by delegates who represented nobody but themselves, electing an executive who stand for no constituency. This would be a handy parallel with their erstwhile President, who is an activist without any apparent values or beliefs around which to be active.
Is this a big deal? Perhaps not. The Youth League was something of a joke when it was led by the middle-aged Peter Mokaba, widely believed to be a police spy, lover of Winnie Mandela, ranter, AIDS denialist and victim of AIDS. But an organisation of this kind could be the source of energy and renewal for the party. It seems clear that it is nothing of the kind. Worse, it seems to be a blueprint for a new level of virtual politics. We are becoming used to parties without principles or policies. Parties without branches or members are a new thing.
But a logical extension — and conclusion . . .