South African President Jacob Zuma’s overwhelming re-election as head of the ruling African National Congress marginalizes his detractors in the party’s youth wing, who led a failed campaign to nationalize mines.
Zuma trounced his deputy Kgalema Motlanthe in a contest for the leadership of the ANC, winning three-quarters of the vote at a party conference on Dec. 18, a victory that positions him to retain the country’s presidency until 2019. Candidates backed by the youth wing failed to secure any of the top six party posts.
“The ANC Youth League has lost influence,” William Matsheke, a league member from the central Gauteng province, said in an interview at the meeting in the central city of Bloemfontein. “They don’t even have a proper leadership. The call for nationalization has lost momentum.”
Zuma appeared headed for political obscurity after he was implicated in graft and fired as the nation’s deputy president by then-president Thabo Mbeki in 2005. The Youth League helped Zuma orchestrate a comeback, organizing countrywide rallies to build the support that enabled him to wrest control of the ANC from Mbeki in December 2007 and become the nation’s leader 17 months later.
The league turned on Zuma after he ignored its campaign, led by leader Julius Malema, to seize control of mines owned by companies such as Anglo American Plc, Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd., and Kumba Iron Ore Ltd., with Malema accusing him of failing the country’s poor. The ANC responded by expelling Malema for sowing disunity within party ranks and damaging its reputation.
“The Youth League has been sidelined for now,” Susan Booysen, a politics professor at the University of Johannesburg, said in a Dec. 18 interview in Bloemfontein. “They will probably continue to agitate for change.”
Proposals for nationalization were rejected at this week’s ANC national conference, the party’s top decision-making structure, while most of the Youth League’s other proposals were also dropped. A plea by Malema to be readmitted to the party never made it onto the agenda.
“Without Julius it’s harder for the Youth League,” Mpho Mathatho, a member of the group from Malema’s native Limpopo province. “With him here Jacob Zuma wouldn’t have won. He is a very powerful lobbier.”
The Youth League’s prospects of increasing its clout within the ANC received a further setback after the conference resolved that individuals had to be members of the party for at least 10 years to sit on its national executive committee.
The league and its policies were subordinate to those of the mother body, Febe Potgieter-Gqubule, a member of the party’s national executive, told reporters yesterday.
The media created an incorrect perception of the Youth League as a leading power broker within the ANC, according to Pallo Jordan, a member of the party’s national executive, who was part of the ANC’s first cabinet under Nelson Mandela in 1994.
“They don’t have the numbers and I doubt they have the clout in the branches,” he said in an interview yesterday. “As far as I know they have never been kingmakers.”