In South Africa, the battles for socioeconomic development are spearheaded by young people across the country. The Bambatha Rebellion in 1906 was a remarkable piece of history in the South African revolution — after it took place, the colonial enterprise refused the native people the right to participate in Parliament.
It was up to the generation of Pixley Isaka Seme and Solomon Plaatje to infuse new ideas and knowledge in the body politic of the ANC by resuscitating and capacitating the membership of the ANC and society at large. It was through their revolutionary character and ideological sharpness that they agitated for the youth to be in the majority in the liberation movement.
Young people would be at the forefront of the fight against the colonial enterprise.
The 1942 Conference of the ANC under Josiah Gumede noted and appreciated the need for the formation of the Youth League of the ANC. It was Gumede who acknowledged that the country needed more radical and militant young people to take the revolution forward.
Subsequent to this positive and historic political development, the ANCYL was formed in 1944 as an organisation to galvanise South African youth into the ANC. Little did they know that its reason to be was not only the mobilisation of young people into the ANC, but also to be a fighting force to liberate the people of South Africa from colonial slavery.
The ANCYL 1949 Radical and Militant Programme of Action was led by young people who resisted the colonial enterprise, from writing petitions to the Queen of England, to changing the ideological character of the ANC and the political landscape of South Africa. This generation led the defiance campaign in 1952, and the conglomeration of forces for the formation and adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955.
After the banning of African anti-apartheid political parties in South Africa, Nelson Mandela at an early age volunteered to lead the armed struggle against the colonial apartheid regime, as the commander-in-chief of uMkhonto We Sizwe. Former president of the ANCYL Patrick Muloawa died in combat, fighting the apartheid state forces. In the nature of the battles and the absence of elders at that time, the generation of Chris Hani waged war against elders of the ANC who were comfortable with the status quo in the country and forced the ANC to develop strategies and tactics at the 1969 Morogoro Conference.
These remarkable incidents epitomise the fact that young people played a leading role in the South African politics.
The youth of Solomon Mahlangu and Winnie Mandela fought against the regime of Malan and Verwoerd in Soweto by ensuring that English is used as a medium of instruction. Countless young people were incarcerated, tormented and machine-gunned in the fight for a democratic government. It was the youth of 1982 who galvanised the people of South Africa to form the United Democratic Front (UDF) towards the planned conference in 1985 Kabwe. The Kabwe Conference made a clear call to leaders of the ANC, that the youth was adamant they had to return to the country to fight the apartheid government.
In early 1988, the South African Youth Congress (Sayco) was formed as part of the internal strategy applied by the ANC under Peter Mokaba against apartheid. Former president of the ANC, comrade OR Tambo, defined them as the "roaring young lions of the north".It was in that context that Tambo believed a country that does not take care of its youth does not deserve a future. He understood that the youth played an enormous role in the history of ANC and South Africa.
After the unbanning of political parties, the release of political prisoners and the return of exiles, the ANCYL held a Congress in Siyabuswa, KwaNdebele to make an assessment on the balance of forces in the country. The suspension of the armed struggle and negotiations at Codesa were spearheaded by young people. These remarkable incidents epitomise the fact that young people played a leading role in the South African politics.
It is important for the people of South Africa to make an honest self-introspection and encourage their leaders to retire or resign at the age of 60. This call is informed by the fact that the world is becoming younger, and the government needs active, vibrant young people who will work tirelessly to deliver services. It is in that historical context that young people have demonstrated the capacity to fight and implement decisions.
South Africa has great potential to realise economic freedom in our lifetime, but the challenge is that we have old men and women who are in positions of leadership. What do we expect from them, because they have aged and are not energetic anymore? They should know when it is the time to retire and move on with their lives. The primary lesson that leaders can learn is honest self-reflection that their time is up. They must give way for young blood.
It will be problematic if leadership is pushed out of positions of power by the youth impatient for radical socioeconomic transformation. It is incumbent upon the leadership of the ANC and the world at large to resign when times are favourable. It cannot be correct for leaders to do as they please in the organisation, because that will be detrimental to the national democratic revolution. They must have the ability to step down when their integrity is still intact.
Our elders need to take a step back and become the guiding force to enable the ANC to create new layers of leadership.
The Arab Spring was a result of a huge age difference between leaders of government and the people — leading to young nations are ruled by old men and women who can't communicate with the youth, who do not understand the youth, and with whom the youth don't identify, and are forever sleeping in Parliament.
It's time for the ANC and for all senior leaders to put the interests of the country ahead of theirs.
Our elders need to take a step back and become the guiding force to enable the ANC to create new layers of leadership. It disappointing when leaders of the ANC are unable to groom a new layer of leadership to take over from them. This nurturing of the second generation of leaders should have been one of their biggest contributions to the party. One of the most important characteristics of a great leader is that they produce more leaders in their image. They must replicate their best in young people who will pick up the leadership baton.
The only problem in South Africa is insecure leadership, which deliberately chooses to stunt the growth of the youth. In the process, they create an environment for forced exit.
Many of our elders compromise service delivery programmes because we are living in a digital world where technology is more advanced, and it is difficult for them to acclimatise to technological development. They must resign and allow the youth to lead, with them acting in an advisory capacity.
Che Selane is ANC Youth League Valley Hlokwe Branch Chairperson. He writes in his personal capacity.