The ANCYL today embodies many of the contradictions of post-apartheid South Africa, which stands at a crossroads in its political development. Whereas senior ANC leaders are generally engrossed in the complex work of governing a developing multiracial country, ANCYL's leadership speaks the old language of revolution. We arrived at the ANCYL's National General Council meeting in the middle of ANCYL President Julius Malema's interminably long speech, in which he called for nationalization of South African mines and continued revolution. The speech ended with a short but enthusiastic rally, during which Malema led the assembly in the recently resurrected apartheid-era song/chant, "Kill the Boer, the farmer." Malema has gotten in trouble for using this slogan in the past, and now replaces "kill" with "kiss", but those present clearly understood what Malema meant, because many of those present stuck their fingers in the air and went "pow, pow."
Malema, a controversial figure who grew up in poverty but is now wealthy resident of Johannesburg's posh Sandton district, has said in television interviews that he is a "Marxist-Leninist" but not a Communist. Many of his pronouncements, including his call for nationalization of the mines, have been disavowed by senior ANC leaders. But they were well-received by the those attending the National General Council, and essentially repeated to us in greater detail by Secretary-General Vuyiswa Tulelo during our meeting with Tulelo and other ANCYL leaders after Malema's speech, Deputy President Andile Lungisa. We were treated very warmly by everyone, and given goody bags to take home, the same given to participants of the conference. This is perhaps an indication that while Malema's economic policies are favored by many in the ANCYL, his comments on racial matters are less popular.
The ANCYL's membership is comprised of young black men and women who grew up in the post-apartheid era. They view the government's policy of Black Economic Empowerment, an affirmative action program meant to integrate previously disadvantaged groups into the economy, as a largely failed program that has created a black elite while leaving the vast majority of South African Blacks in poverty. Thus, calls for nationalization reflect a growing discontent with the pace of change among younger South Africans in a country where, despite a small but growing Black middle class, many still live in abject poverty while White South Africans continue to enjoy prosperity.
Those White South Africans include most of the Jewish community. And though ANCYL policies do not appear to have gained currency among government leaders, and Malema is viewed by many South Africans alike as something of a clown, it is nevertheless troubling to see a South African leader of any kind talk this way while saying kind things about Robert Mugabe and his land seizure policies.
Sixteen years into the post-apartheid era, South Africa's multiracial democracy continues to be a work in progress, and the evolution of the ANC from a revolutionary movement to a governing party is also ongoing. The ANCYL asserts that the revolution is far from over. While Malema speeches repeatedly reference Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and others, it is not clear that he shares their goals of a peaceful, multiracial South Africa.