The African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) has a long history of militancy and pronounced nationalism, fighting against inequality that was once formalized under apartheid and now persists informally through institutionalized economic disparity and continued racism. Early on in the fight against apartheid, the Youth League – with Nelson Mandela as a founding member – had enormous influence in encouraging the ANC to engage in increasingly aggressive protests against the apartheid government, eventually leading to constitutional democracy in 1994. The Youth League’s determination for justice and equality has not been relinquished, even with ANC elected leadership.
Shortly before Mandela’s death, conflict between the ANC and ANCYL leadership grew to a breaking point. Although controversial Youth League president Julius Malema had previously said he would “kill for Zuma” and supported the president elect, arguments between the two leaders have since dissolved any loyalty. The ANC initially distanced itself from Malema when statements and songs perceived to be hate speech were not retracted, with financial corruption later added to the list of accusations. Malema was suspended, a decision later made permanent. Youth League leadership was replaced, but discontent with Zuma and ANC leadership persisted, believing the party to be corrupt and therefore unable to effectively mediate economic disparity. In March 2013, ANCYL leadership was once again removed, with the ANC demanding Youth League agreement in all decisions made. One previous Youth League leader stated that the ANC simply wants “stooges” who “will agree with them on everything.” A Youth League National Task Team (NTT) has been created to replace the dissolved ANCYL NEC (National Executive Committee), but former Youth League president Ronald Lamola does not believe it is effective and that the history of the ANCYL is being erased.
Nelson Mandela’s death signified a new phase for the ANC, one that no longer can demand allegiance to the party of a beloved statesman so certainly. Zuma was loudly booed at Mandela’s funeral, a sign that discontent within the country is multiplying. Competing political parties are slowly gaining traction as the country looks for alternatives to a government most agree is paralyzed in corruption. With thirteen political parties represented in Parliament, and many more campaigning, it is doubtful true competition for the presidency will emerge any time soon. Regardless, frustration with Zuma and the ANC is clearly evident. Upcoming elections will present the greatest challenges to the ANC yet.