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Wiring conflict into South Africa’s future

Collen Maine, new ANCYL president
Collen Maine.jpg

The interchangeable way in which the terms ‘revolution’ and ‘transformation’ are being used by the present generation’s leaders might be wiring conflict into the DNA of future leadership for the next decades.

In an article published last week, Frans Cronjé, CEO of the South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR), writes that the term ‘transformation’ in many cases has become “a proxy for anti-white nationalism”. What the government calls transformation is a means to increase state control and erode civil rights. In the media, the concept of transformation has been abused to limit freedom of speech and shield the government from scrutiny.”

At the congress of the African National Congress’ Youth League (ANCYL) senior leaders of the governing party, from President Jacob Zuma down, urged the leaders of the next generation to defend the ruling party against “counter-revolutionaries” on all fronts.

And the confrontational aggression is not only directed at whites or the use of Afrikaans as one of the languages of instruction at tertiary institutions. In a thinly veiled reference to the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Mr Zuma urged the ANCYL to also confront the “counter-revolutionaries” in parliament.

“You can wait for them when they come out of parliament,” he told delegates at the conference when delivering his keynote address.

The secretary-general of the ANC-allied South African Students Congress (SASCO), Khulekani Sikhosana, addressing the congress shortly after Mr Zuma, vowed to “go after” EFF leader Julius Malema.

“Julius, we are coming for you,” he said.

The present leadership apparently wants to create a future leadership in its own image and in the mould of a liberation movement – a leadership hardly suitable for the governmental challenges of a modern democracy.

This is well illustrated by former ANCYL president, Malusi Gigaba telling the congress: “The ANCYL must always understand that it is not a youth organisation of a modern parliamentary political party, but that of a progressive national liberation movement.”

It is also telling that the new ANCYL leadership elected at the congress was off a slate punted and funded by what has become known as the “Premier League”, led by the premiers of the Free State, North West and Mpumalanga.

Targeting institutions of learning

The new ANCYL president, Collen Maine, himself a grade 11 dropout, gave notice in the ANCYL’s first public statement that it will target tertiary education institutions. It read among other things: “We will marshal our structures to lead all youth campaigns that confront backward thinking and to challenge those impeding transformation of society. In this context we will prioritize programmes like the transformation of universities, remove offensive symbols and ensure (it is) representative of our heritage taking advantage of our diversity.”

Gigaba, in turn, said: “The ANC must invest in the ANCYL and the progressive students’ movement. This requires engagement, presence and visibility on an on-going basis rather than intermittently. We must begin to take SRC elections in tertiary institutions serious.”

Deputy president of the ANC and of the country, Cyril Ramaphosa, told the congress in his opening address: “The scourge of racism continues to define the lives of many institutions in our country. Many institutions continue to resist transformation.

“Many give lip service to the transformation imperative. Unfortunately many such institutions are also institutions of higher learning.”

He went on to tell the league that it has the responsibility to confront this issue “like the youth of 1976 resisted the imposition of Afrikaans on education and on young people in schools”.

Recent experience

Although language, and particularly the use of Afrikaans as one of the mediums of tutoring, has dominated the news during the past few weeks, recent events at campuses around the country have shown an increase in violence at universities, particularly around Student Representative Council elections.

There have been several incidents of violence at tertiary institutions, particularly involving the EFF and other parties, at the University of Witwatersrand, the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and the Elsenburg Agricultural Institute in Stellenbosch.

Besides disruptions around the elections, a number of tertiary institutions faced protests and violence over issues of race, transformation and language.

At Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute at least one student was injured in a protest that turned violent, as people who tried to enter lecture halls were sjambokked.

At the North West University (NWU) the student newspaper was forced to remove a story on an ANC Youth League march at one of its campuses from its Facebook page after comments bordered on ‘hate speech’.

There can be no doubt that many black students still feel alienated at formerly white dominated institutions.

But, in the words of Cronjé: “How far the term (transformation) is being abused, I recently witnessed a group of black private school-educated businessmen whinging about how disadvantaged they are.

“In the hands of certain black activists the term transformation is abused to represent nothing more than white-hate.”


In reaction to the violent protests the organisation AfriForum Youth last week launched a National Prevention Plan for seven campuses across South Africa aimed at “self-defence”.

The plan consists of ten actions which will be implemented at these institutions. It includes the compiling of response plans for when violent protests erupt, the use of private security firms to protect the rights of students, actions for the retention of Afrikaans, and education in student rights and self-defence training.

At the same time the organisation claimed that transformation efforts, especially emanating from government, is part of a “total onslaught” on Afrikaans.

The “total onslaught” term was a particularly unfortunate choice, since it strongly reminds of the time of the P.W. Botha administration at the height of the liberation struggle.


It is clear that the politics of confrontation are getting ingrained in the DNA of the ‘leaders in training’, something that can destroy South Africa.

At a moral level Cronjé’s plea that “it remains essential that young whites remain committed to advancing true transformation in pursuit of a just and prosperous society,” is certainly appropriate.

However, with respect, as long as white students experience, in his own words, that transformation in “many cases … has become a proxy for anti-white nationalism”, such a notion is ivory tower stuff.

What is urgently needed, is that the tone of interaction and debate between students from different backgrounds and races must be changed.

In this respect the NWU vice-chancellor, Professor Dan Kgwadi, in a statement in response to the Facebook incident regarding the student paper, made the salient point: “All issues that divide or bind us need to be discussed openly and honestly. No points of view should be excluded. All our students, from whatever background, political persuasion or language, are important and must feel welcome on our campuses.”

And, most importantly, he said: “… all students want a safe, vibrant student life where human dignity and the observance of their rights and obligations are part and parcel of everyday experience.

“Let us talk about our fears and experiences. Let us get to know each other better. And let us find a way to make this university a beacon of hope. We can and must do it.”

It is in this direction that current leaders and aspiring leaders of the future should direct their efforts towards real transformation.

by Piet Coetzer

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