It was in his 1985 January 8 statement of the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) when the late leader of the party, Oliver Reginald Tambo, instructed the youth of South Africa to render the country ungovernable. This clarion call was made at a time when the ANC was at the height of its struggle against apartheid. It appealed to young people who were ready to raise the bar of resistance.

Led by star-leaders like Peter Mokaba, who had just been released from Robben Island, young people in South Africa never shied away from standing up to cripple the racist minority Nationalist Party regime.

That era replicated the courageous youths of 1976 who had, a decade earlier, stood up to protest the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.

The two epochs have one thing in common: a decisive young generation that resolved to confront injustice.

As the country celebrates the OR Tambo month, it is imperative for our generation of young people to reflect on our predecessors.

Undoubtedly, Tambo had confidence in the youth. He commanded respect.

As the first female secretary general of the ANC Youth League, Febe Potgieter, said earlier in the week, “As student activists, we had never seen nor met Tambo but we revered and honoured his commands.”

A quick analysis reveal that young people of the resistance movement faced totally different challenges at the time compared to us today. Politics of the 70s and 80s called on a different breed of young activists to advance the cause of struggle. Without a doubt, those young people of that era deserve honour and admiration.

Perhaps the critical question is how can society shape a new young cadre for national development? This, bearing in mind that the contemporary socio-economic outlook requires a young activist of a different kind.

Nevertheless, one thing we have in common with the preceding youths is that we are also highly politiciSed. This helps shape up our political comprehension of events. Therefore, what kind of a young cadre does society need at this juncture?

As a 27-year-old former chairperson of ANC Youth League Musina Sub Region, I recall that from the ages of 15 to 17, I had travelled to Kenya and London twice to participate at the Children Global Panel. This was to sharpen my leadership abilities in the advancement of youth development. The experience drawn from such exposure has influenced my decision-making even within an organization like the ANC which is grappling with internal factions and divisions.

Since one is based in the Vhembe region of Limpopo, one has had to eloquently align with the “Anti-Corruption Battalion” to fight against corruption in both the party and state. Young people have to be at the center of all struggles aimed at developing communities.

Firstly, the ANC should rid itself of opportunists parading as youth leaders among its structures. It should be the role of the ANCYL in Vhembe to clarify the role and benefits of young people in the Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone, for instance, which is a project spanning 30 years to fully implement at a cost of over R200 billion. It is young people who must have the interests of their folks at heart.

Currently, the ANC has dropped the ball on the youths. In Vhembe, the ANCYL is led by Fistos Mafela who is 47 years old, whereas nationally, the ANC National Youth Task Team is coordinated by Thandi Mahambehlala, herself 47 years old. Therefore, until the ANC as a governing party shows that it is committed to the youth agenda by firing these old people from leading youth structures, young people within the party will find it difficult to pursue programs aimed at their enhancement.

Lessons that the current leadership of the ANC should take from OR Tambo include setting the youth in the ANC free.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s efforts to rid the ANC and government of corrupt elements would be given a big boost if he had the youth movement in tow.

Whereas some of us fully support his clean-up campaign, which should rid society of shameless crooks that prey on the most vulnerable and their intended-resources, President Ramaphosa should also assist us young people in the ANC to reclaim our Youth League from the likes of Mafela in Vhembe and Mahambehlala at Luthuli House.

The youth agenda has been hijacked and our voice is stifled. We want to contribute to the political discourse of this country, but we can only do so if we have our platform, the Youth League.

By Dominic Nkwana, a member of the ANCYL in Vhembe who writes in his personal capacity.