Thursday, 9 August 2012

Open letter to the African National Congress Youth League

To whom it may concern,

There was a time, generations ago, when an armed struggle was necessary in South Africa.

There was a time such a resistance was honorable; and throwing stones and burning tyres were symbolic yet tangible attempts at defiance against the heavy-handed, armed riot police of a racist government.

Not too long ago, we were the victims of our own skins - being oppressed for being too dark, too African, or just too ethnic.

This was the time when the ANC called for revolution against the oppressors. Our leaders, like Steve Biko, Moses Mabhida and countless, un-celebrated mothers and fathers, inspired selfless bravery in the face of brutality;  hope in the face of despair. And at the heart of this was a youth league that energised the noble ideals of the African National Congress.

But that resistance was just a means to an end, not a way of life.

I live in the Western Cape. And for the longest time I remained hopeful that one day, the ANC would come and democratically wrest power away from the current ruling opposition.
Not because of political or ethnic considerations but because like so many here, I want to live alongside our fellow countrymen under a rule of law, by a party who still bears the scars of a struggle that gave us that opportunity. The right to live, love and prosper with whomsoever we chose to do so without fear or prejudice.

Yet today I pen this letter, feeling dejected and betrayed and largely confused by the actions of a youth league  that threatened to turn our city into a war zone.

After 18 years of freedom, the youth league still sees the tactics used against the Apartheid regime as applicable today. And that saddens me deeply.

I am 27, Muslim and “Coloured” but most importantly I am South African. I am also the grandson of a man imprisoned for dissent against the old-regime and the son of parents who both rioted in the 70’s with this very youth league against racist oppression.

Yet today, I feel far removed from this once honorable movement. Instead, you find a man increasingly at odds with your actions.

What shame, pain and embarrassment for those who have to witness a legacy that is feted the world over – tarnished, neglected and preyed upon by a youth wing that openly expressed a desire to have vandals and criminals in their ranks.

Today’s unrest spoke volumes of what the league has disintegrated into: a home for hateful incitement, racist name-calling, hooliganism and unbridled anarchy.

Youth League, answer this: Are we not a nation built on respect and diversity? Where is the respect for those who do not share your political views? Where is that diversity that the ANC embraced once upon a time when they stood side by side with the South African Indian Congress, the South African Coloured People’s Organisation, and the South African Congress of Democrats in 1955?

Does our proud history of united action mean nothing to you?

Also, why do you decry racism so fervently elsewhere when yet there is almost no racial diversity within your own leadership?  We are all different, but equal. I state the obvious because I hope in text, it will imprint a change or at least flicker a moment a self-reflection.

I know all too well that there is an economic battle being waged in homes all across South Africa, with the poor finding no respite. Poverty is something we need to confront earnestly, together.

I agree that there is an over-representation of white males in positions of power within the private sector, but why should employees that are not in positions of power have to suffer for this? This is a battle that is best taken up with the executives of the corporations.

Yes, multi-nationals get disproportionately high profits on the backs of our own natural resources, but this is something we must confront with thought and consideration.

Unhinged militancy and incitement do nothing to build the bridges we need for resolving our nation’s many social problems. And they do even less in resurrecting our fading dreams of a better South Africa for all. All you are doing, in light of your planned actions, is burning bridges to the ground.

I turn my back on your gangster mentality, because there is no place for it in our society. And as a league of comrades, not a gang of thugs – we should be leaders with an example of our own. An example that honors the blood that have been spilt in Soweto, Rivonia, Vlakplaas, District Six and all those uncelebrated places where people have struggled for a better life.

There is an open forum for public discussion and debate: a platform that was built by YOUR predecessors at the ANC. I look at the life of Chief Luthuli and wonder:  Is this the legacy he envisaged?
He was a noble man that was known to be intolerant of hatred, he led 10 million people in non-violent protest, and he fought every day of his political and educational career for educational equality and a better life for all.

Today, as you spread anarchy, resentment and continue the cycle of hatred in our streets; his values seem completely at odds with the ones you express.

Youth League, I challenge you:
·    To see the educated and informed will of the people as more important for a peaceful society than gaining political points and power.
·    To admit and address that there exist cultural exclusivity and superiority (racism) within your organisation, effectively barring other minorities of previously disadvantaged backgrounds from full participation and membership.
·    To address the militarism and hateful incitement that does nothing for the social cohesion of a diverse constituency.
·    To recognise that through your calls to militarism and hooliganism, you are directly responsible for the destruction or theft of public and private property, the injury and trauma of innocent non-participants, the exacerbation of economic disparity by disrupting small and entrepreneurial business, and sowing mistrust and suspicion between people on the basis of race. I remind you, intimidation and violence against a civilian population for a political or ideological cause constitutes domestic terrorism.
·    To acknowledge that the problems that South Africa is facing cannot be addressed by the militarism and armed struggle that you continuously propagate both implicitly and explicitly.
My heart broke a little today when you turned your back on the legacy of the ANC.

Today, I no longer believe that the ANC holds the future of this country.

Your colossal contribution to our past will always be respected and appreciated, but if your future leaders continue on this poisonous path, then I can no longer cast my ballot for you.

Deepest regrets

Kamal Salasa


  1. Wow. You have managed to capture the disillusionment of so many in this country with grace, humility and elegance. I hope that somehow, somewhere, an ANCYL member gets to read this and is moved to positive action.

    1. Thanks Lauren!

      It is just a major frustration to me that the voices of reason and the proponents of carefully considered action are drowned out by war songs. Who are they fighting? We are at a time of peace here, and all of us want it to remain that way.

  2. Well Said...this craziness should come to an end and we should move forward. Whats the point in saying we made it through the struggle, but ANCYL uses where we came from as a weapon to for their own selfish vendettas?

    1. Totally true. I think if the Youth League were sincerely concerned with the plight of the poor, they would not make such blatant attempts at undermining our elected provincial government. There is no "ungovernability" campaigns in the ANC ruled provinces, despite the fact that the poor there suffer equally. This is clearly a politically motivated move, and because it involves intimidation, violence and vandalism, it is terrorism.

  3. Our hope as a country, province and city lies in the voice of reason, of considered, rationale argument. Vigorous debate within the confines of respect for our differences is what leads to constructive and concrete, constructive change.
    Let’s hope that the voice of the silent majority such as the Wanderer, grows in vigorous opposition to this random, irrational ranting and wanton destruction of the mindless, irrelevant minority who’s only contribution is to tarnish the moral high ground achieved by their forbearers.

    1. Thank you. Just because one disagrees with the policies of the DA, does not make it ok to be violent and incite hatred under the shallow guise of "resistance".

      The possible mistake of the Youth League in this case is that they may well have removed the apathy from the majority of the youth here.

  4. Please post this link to the ANC; ANCYL; ANCWL; DA; COPE; MorningLive; Vuyo & Lee-ann's Facebook and Twitter accounts. Lets get the country talking. Lets start our own revolution of Intellectual discussion and debate! This must STOP!!!

    1. It must stop. And if our leaders do not have the tongue or the teeth to do it, then they need to be replaced with leaders that do.

      I have posted links to all of these, but no response. I missed Morning Live, and the Cape Times letters section. I'll keep a look out, and i will keep trying to draw attention to it. Any other suggestions?

  5. The protests u witness in cape town are not the ANCYLs fault, when society revolts againsts its own government, some1 should take the lead.the youth leath has done that by adressin the service delivery issues on paper, n have peacefully delivery this memorandum 2 the provincial chambers, a time line was given. For the city 2 respond and no responce as the city does not take the youth league serious, not knowing that its not the youth league issues, its real community issues.this has led 2 the community goin on continues violent protest.the city has not come out 2 adress the issues @ hand. Bt rather chooses 2 point n blame the ANCYL. Let it be known 2 all of you non-youth league members, any statement or interview done by self proclaimed youth league member should not and never taken as that of the ANCL. He has never been elected 2 any postion of leadership in this media needs 2 stop capitalizing on his views and see them as ANCYL views...

    1. The "the city does not take the youth league serious" line is typical. You are the leaders of the movement that used terrorist tactics in protests, and you want them to recognise you as legitimate? I don't know, but you may be approaching them in the wrong way. Perhaps a more inclusive, co-operative character from the YL may get people to start taking notice.

      You keep referring to "society" and "community" in absolute terms. This is divisive and very dangerous. It shows that you want to be seen as pushing the agenda of the overwhelming majority, when you KNOW this isn't the case. Extremely dishonest, because it assumes that the "community" and the "society" consists mainly of people dissatisfied with city government, and you are the saviors of the people. According to you, you are NOT pushing a populist agenda, but your language says otherwise. All about politics. Winning the WC back. Let's be honest for a change.

      Now I take your comment as a criticism of my letter. Fair enough. But you have not adequately demonstrated that I was wrong in ANY of my points. I set out a few challenges. NONE have been addressed in your comment. I have published your comment because I am not afraid of constructive, critical debate. Can you say they same about the ANCYL?

      Then this "victim of the media" narrative. Yes i agree. The media is biased because of corporate interests. I am a Muslim, I know what it is like to be vilified by media even before 9/11. I have a distaste for sensationalism. I also have a distaste for the radicalism of sentiments like "we will make this city ungovernable". How would you plan on doing that? By peacefully handing over memoranda?

      Please respond to the challenges set out in the letter. I will concede if you can prove that I am wrong, or those characteristics mentioned are actually good for the country.

      Once again, thank you for the response, i appreciate the effort.

    2. Start at the bottom of this two-post reply, my response was too long

  6. Matthew, thanks for the response. I am heartened that SOMEONE from the opposing point of view posted a comment. I remember you were always involved with YL at varsity, and I assume that you remain in that position. I think communication and debate is crucial to be able to properly navigate this sea of misunderstanding.

    Regarding your comment itself, I have many gripes. Your response here typifies the attitude of the YL, especially in the context of the Western Cape. I roundly reject your notion that "society is revolting against its own government". The WC government happens to be fairly and democratically elected; and although you and I may not like it, this is how democracy works. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that there is a section of the WC population that is unhappy and is protesting, as is their democratic right provided they do it in ways akin to a civilised society. To make a blanket statement like "society is revolting" is wildly irresponsible on your part, and unfortunately typical of the YL hyperbolic and distinctly militant rhetoric that seeks to create discord.

    Then you run into a rather murky concept of "leadership". You say: "when society revolts againsts its own government, some1 should take the lead.the youth leath has done that..". You do realise that taking leadership entails taking responsibility, right? Or are talking about "figureheadship", where you only take the lead in nominal but highly visible ways so as to abscond from your responsibility of asserting discipline among your ranks? Where you effectively have no control, but still want to claim all he credit? I think a wiser term would have "mediatorship". Because that is all you have taken.

    As to your charge of "a timeline was given" to respond to your memorandum. I am no Patricia de Lille fan, but she was responding to those issues (perhaps not well enough, but at least up for debate) when the "society" you claim is revolting closed the meeting with threats of violence and hooliganism. Also, where is the timeline for the rest of the country? It's been almost 20 years of timeline for your own party, but you choose to present timelines and demands to the province with the BEST service delivery and MOST TRANSPARENT financial practices? You tell me if that doesn't sound like politicking to the neutral, then you are as out of touch with the WC as Thabo was with SA. I am by no means delegitimising the plight of the poor, but DO NOT pretend to be the champions of the people if you cannot be consistent throughout the organisation.