“When did things go wrong…?”
“Hmm?” asked the president of the ANC.
The crowd was hesitant at first but then a few shouted “Mangaung” or “Bloemfontein”.
Jacob Zuma agreed. He blamed the ANC Youth League 2008 conference that elected Julius Malema for the start of the league’s troubles.
On Saturday, he decided to go down memory lane, through the eight years that saw the league being the biggest newsmakers, the loudest of mouths, to becoming mostly irrelevant and stumbling over its feet to reclaim any credibility.
It was perhaps a good time to do so.
The league had just elected a new President – three years after Julius Malema, who was first elected in that chaotic 2008 conference in Bloemfontein, was expelled from the party.
“What happened in Mangaung? You started a culture that was never there before.
I remember I came as I have come now to address you. Each time I finish a point some of you thought it was important to mention a leader you were standing for and if I mentioned another one you mentioned another leader. Instead of listening to me on what should be done for the youth,” Zuma recalled.
The 2008 conference held in the University of the Free State degenerated into violence, Zuma’s speech was disturbed as Malema – who was ANCYL Limpopo provincial secretary – was up against youth league national executive committee member Saki Mofokeng.
Malema’s election was marked with allegations of fraud, manipulation and intimidation.
The conference collapsed.
“The conclusion of the conference was postponed. But you know very well it never sat again. I don’t know if you hypnotised the mother body … maybe you did because they then concluded it by taking a decision,” Zuma said, adding that the conference was abnormal.
Zuma said the league was never right since 2008.
Three years later, in Midrand, the ANCYL held another conference where Malema was re-elected – also marked by chaos.
“I also came … things were totally out of order,” Zuma said.
He recalled while he was addressing the delegation, Floyd Shivumbu interrupted Zuma while talking about Libya.
“Uthini baba? Ukhuluma nami? Oh! [What are you saying? Are you talking to me?],” Zuma reportedly snapped at the time.
Now four years later, Zuma said that conference too was a sham.
“Delegates were dispossessed of their phones, locked in hotels like prison … you remember?”
in early 2013, the ANC disbanded the leadership collective elected in the 2011 conference and put in place a task team to help rebuild the league.
But that attempt too failed.
In November last year, the first national task team convened an elective conference in Soweto but it was converted to a consultative conference at the eleventh hour.
It was alleged that some in the task team engineered processes for their own aspirations to lead the league.
At the time, the leadership race was fierce and aggressive but it was then deferred after Zuma called for the conference to be converted into a consultative conference.
Ten months later, the league eventually elected a new leadership this weekend.
The run-up was not markedly different to the run-up of the three other conferences, with allegations of manipulation, violence and a failed attempt to interdict the conference.
Zuma admitted thinking at first that things had not changed.
But on Friday evening the new leadership – headed by North West MEC for local government Collen Maine – were elected unopposed.
There was some grumblings at first because contenders Ronald Lamola and Pule Mabe did not qualify to contest in the nomination process.
But eventually there was consensus despite a strong sentiment that Maine was imposed on the league.
Interestingly, Zuma noted that the question of the autonomy of the league is what lead to it pulling itself away from the mother body.
Under Malema, the league pursued its autonomy saying the mother body had no business interfering in its affairs.
“The ANC is big, it has leagues’ which belongs to it … you can’t have one of these all of sudden starting to emphasise autonomy.” Zuma, in an apparent reference to Malema, said those who spoke about autonomy were thinking of breaking away from the ANC.
Malema later formed the Economic Freedom Fighters which has 25 MPs in parliament.
Zuma told delegates that they should deal with “these counter-revolutionaries”.
“All revolutions of the world produce counter-revolutionaries… who must talk about them of you don’t talk about them..”
Zuma said now the league was in a period of renewal.
“The old tendencies that we saw in Bloemfontein must change. Change they must! We cannot continue on that wrong and destructive path that almost close to a decade we have been in trouble as an ANC Youth League,” he said.
Zuma further urged the youth to rally behind in the new leadership.
The National Executive Committee of the league was elected unopposed on Saturday evening and the conference was expected to end on Sunday.