During the Easter weekend, the South African Youth Congress (SAYCO) held its first national congress in Kanyamazane, Ka Ngwane. Saul Molobi killed two birds with one stone — he attended the congress both as a delegate of his youth organisation and a Learn and Teach writer. In this story, he gives a report on the congress…
THE Kanyamazane Community Hall in Kangwane looked and felt like a “liberated ANC zone” over the Easter weekend. In the courtyard, marshalls, dressed in the full uniform of Umkhonto we Sizwe, (MK), had raised the ANC flag up high. As it flew proudly against the bright blue African sky, over 1 500 youth leaders, from every corner of the country, filed into the hall.
Inside, delegates were met by the Umkhonto we Sizwe flag. The flag shows five MK cadres carrying Assault Kalashnikovs (AK’s), marching in the bush under a rising sun. Next to that, another huge banner showed the emblems of the African National Congress (ANC), the South African Communist Party (SACP), the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) and MK.
This was the first national congress of the South African Youth Congress (SAYCO) since its launch on 28 March 1987. SAYCO is the biggest youth federation in the country and the largest affiliate of the United Democratic Front (UDF). It has over three million members. I had come to the congress to represent my organisation, the Eersterus Youth Organisation.
Delegates were joined by representatives of SAYCO’s sister organisations from home and abroad — such as the South African National Students Congress (SANSCO), the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), the Congress of South African Students (COSAS), and the Union of Young Communists of Cuba.
Also present was Enos Mabuza, the chief minister of Kangwane. Mabuza was the first — and only — bantustan leader to defy the apartheid government by talking with the ANC in 1985. This was a great risk for him because the ANC was still a banned organisation.
After all the greetings and everyone was seated, the congress began. SAYCO’s president, Peter Mokaba, gave the opening speech. “This is an historic congress,” he said. “It is the first national congress of our organisation since its launch three years ago. Today, we celebrate the victories we have won in our struggle.” Comrade Peter also reminded us that even though we have won some important battles, we have not yet won the war against apartheid.
“SABELA UYA BIZWA!”
Then Peter announced the arrival of Comrade Nelson Mandela, the vice- president of the ANC. Comrade Mandela was one of the founder members of the ANC Youth League in 1944 and was Commander-in-Chief of Umkhonto we Sizwe before he was sent to prison.
All of us in the hall stood up and began chanting: “Nelson Mandela, sabela uya bizwa” — (“Nelson Mandela, respond to the call”) and the “people’s soldiers” lined up to form a guard of honour. At last, in came comrade Mandela, walking slowly and with great dignity. At his side walked his wife, comrade Winnie, dressed in full MK guerrilla uniform.
As Madiba climbed up onto the stage, comrade Peter began chanting slogans to welcome him to the congress. We answered back until the sweat began to run down our faces and our throats were dry. When there was silence, Peter said: “Comrade Mandela. You are our leader and commander, we are your storm troopers. Give us your orders and we will obey them with the discipline you call for!”
Comrade Mandela approached the microphone. “You who are here today and the millions you represent, are the pride of all our people.” Then comrade Mandela honoured us further by speaking about the great sacrifices we, the “Young Lions”, have made in the struggle. “You have been in the forward ranks of all our fighting organisations — the youth, students and women’s organisations. You have also placed yourselves at the heart of the heroic efforts of the oppressed and exploited workers of our country.”
To shouts of “Amandla!” and “Viva Umkhonto we Sizwe!”, comrade Mandela told us: “It is you who are the fighters and commanders of our beloved people’s army, Umkhonto we Sizwe. The people’s movement, the ANC, belongs to you in the same way that you belong to it.”
BUILD THE ANC!
Next came the orders. “We need to build the ANC, the ANC Youth League and the ANC Women’s League. As members of SAYCO, you have the responsibility of joining hands with the ANC Youth Section to form the ANC Youth League. This is your task.”
Comrade Mandela also spoke about the youth who may not want to join the ANC. He said that SAYCO must respect this choice and that it is SAYCO’s duty to work together with them in one youth federation. Then we all stood up and gave comrade Mandela a standing ovation.
The whole hall shook as we clapped our hands. I was also pleased to learn a “new release” — the latest slogan in our struggle. A comrade in one corner shouted: “Ha-ha!”. Then many other comrades followed, one by one, shouting the same sounds.
I must be honest — at first I did not know what this “Ha-ha!” meant. But it was repeated time and time again throughout the congress. So I realised that it was a tribute to the leaders of our people. It was good music.
“HEYTA COMRADE TAMBO!”
After Madiba’s speech, Peter sent a special greeting to one who could not be with us, ANC President Oliver Tambo. Comrade Tambo is in hospital in London. “Revolutionary greetings to our heroic leader, President Oliver Tambo. Get well soon, comrade leader, the youth of our country is looking forward to seeing you.”
Then Peter spoke about negotiations. He said that there are two sides in South Africa. The one side is for non-racialism, democracy, peace and social progress and it is led by the ANC. The other side stands for racism, apartheid and violence and is led by the National Party. Peter said that SAYCO supports negotiations because it is one way of bringing about a South Africa of peace and justice.
He then turned his attention to the schools. “One of the biggest problems we are facing is education. As SAYCO we have agreed that the ‘youth must learn’. All youth have the right to acquire knowledge.”
Peter went on to speak about the building of ANC structures. “The unbanning of the ANC and SACP is without doubt the most important event in the history of this country. Let us not forget that this happened because of our struggles. We must now be responsible for taking the struggle forward.”
Above our loud cheering, Peter said: “One way we can do this is by joining the ANC and MK. As long as the SADF continues to call our white youth into the army, so we must also strengthen the ANC’s armed wing. MK does not only have the duty of fighting for our people now. It also has the task of defending our people against those who oppose majority rule.”
COMRADE PHOKS SPEAKS
After Peter’s speech, we all stood up to toyi-toyi and chant before the next speaker, comrade Lawrence Phokanoka — or comrade Phoks as the “Young Lions” call him — took the platform. Comrade Phoks is a veteran of the ANC, the SACP and MK. He was released in 1987 after serving 18 years on Robben Island. He was convicted for being the military advisor in the Luthuli Detachment — a joint unit of MK and Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) — in the fight against the Rhodesian Forces and the South African Defence Force.
Comrade Phokanoka spoke of the relationship between the ANC and the SACP. He explained why the SACP joined forces with the ANC, even though the ANC is not a socialist movement.
“Every Communist Party which has the interests of the masses at heart — and in particular, the working people — will always work alongside any other revolutionary movement. The SACP in this case is no exception,” he said, to loud applause.
By the time comrade Phoks had shared his wisdom with us it was late. To shouts of “Long Live the Freedom Charter!” and “Long Live Comrade Phoks!” the congress came to a close for the day. We went back to our rooms and prepared ourselves for the new day.
The next morning, Saturday, the congress programme started with comrade Teresita Kujela, a representative of the Union of Young Communists of Cuba (UYCC). Comrade Teresita presented awards to SAYCO on behalf of her organisation. They included books about communism, emblems of the Cuban Communist Party, and a shield showing a picture of Che Guevara, one of the fathers of the Cuban revolution.
Comrade Teresita said: “It is an honour for my organisation to take part in this congress. We are bound to the South African youth not only because many of our ancestors came from Africa, but also through our common struggle against oppression in all its forms.”
The screams and shouts of “Viva Fidel Castro!” showed just how much the SAYCO congress wished to honour the Cuban revolutionary leader. He is an inspiration to so many of our youths.
But the most touching scene of the day was when a voice coming from the back seats began leading a song: “Cuban people/ Lovely people/ Here we are far from home/ We shall need you/ We shall love you/ For the things you have done for us.” This was a solemn moment. We could see tears shining in the bright eyes of comrade Teresita.
The rest of Saturday was spent talking about our fighting weapon, SAYCO. We discussed many points and we took decisions on them on Sunday. One of the main decisions was to change SAYCO from a federal to a unitary structure. This means that all youth organisations that were affiliated to SAYCO, will now become branches of SAYCO. For example, my youth congress will no longer be called Eersterus Youth Organisation, but SAYCO (Eersterus branch). (For more information about decisions taken, see the box of resolutions)
“TO THE BATTLE!”
By the end of the weekend we were all exhausted. Every day we started early in the morning and worked until late at night. The Sunday programme was the heaviest of all because we had to elect the new National Executive Committee. Every region had one vote for each position and the voting was done by a show of hands. It took until twenty past three in the morning to count all the votes and announce the new committee. Peter Mokaba was re- elected president of SAYCO. (See box for the names of the new committee)
On Easter Monday, we joined thousands of people from all over the country at the Youth Festival organised by SAYCO in the Lekazi Stadium. We listened to great artists like Mzwakhe, Bayete and Sankomota, who had travelled all the way from Lesotho to take part.
In the late hours of Easter Monday, we made our way to the buses which were to take us home. Although we were very tired by this time, happiness and satisfaction showed on our faces. We were pleased to be leaving the congress with new ideas about how to take the struggle forward. As we shook hands and said goodbye, we reminded each other of SAYCO’s slogans:
“Mobilise! Organise for the final offensive!” and “All youth to battle! All youth to the frontline!”
SOME OF THE MAIN DECISIONS TAKEN AT THE CONGRESS
ON THE ANC YOUTH LEAGUE Since most SAYCO members have always carried the banner of the ANC, they should be encouraged to join the ANC Youth League. The National Executive Committee of SAYCO was delegated to meet with the ANC Youth Section to formally establish a mass-based ANC Youth League inside the country.
ON BANTUSTANS Strong organisations need to be built in the bantustans. Referenda must be held in the different bantustans to test the popularity of the bantustan leaders.
NEGOTIATIONS There should be mobilisation and organisation of people to support the ANC’s non-racial vote campaign. The government must establish a temporary government of which the ANC will a part to facilitate a solution through negotiations.
HARARE DECLARATION The declaration must be translated into different languages and taken to rural communities for discussion. Workshops and seminars must be organised to discuss that declaration.
WOMEN Women must organise and fight ail sexist behaviour. Women must be represented in all decision-making bodies.
KNOW YOUR YOUTH LEADERS
THE elections of the new — and enlarged in terms of the new constitution — of the National Executive Committee (NEC) took place on the last day of the congress. The Electoral Officer was Regan Shope — former political prisoner and MK member. She did this great task with skill and discipline and she managed to encourage comrades to exercise discipline too.
Comrade Regan finished her work at twenty past three in the morning. And the fruits of this difficult task were as follows:
Peter Mokaba (President); Nyamaseli Booi (Vice-President); Rapu Molekane (General Secretary), Jerry Ndou (Administrative Secretary); Kgaogelo Lekgoro (Organising Secretary); Ignatius Jacobs (Treasurer); Fawcett Mathebe (Assistant Treasurer); Ephraim Nkoe (Education Officer); Febe Potgieter (Assistant Education Officer); Kenneth Mphakwana (Publicity Secretary); Dipuo Peters (Women’s Organiser); Nxumisa Kondlo (Assistant Women’s Organiser); Joe Nkuna (Religious Officer); Andy Sefohlela (Cultural Officer); Lulamile Georgias (Sports Officer); Christopher Mbekele (Student Liaison Officer); Sharon Davids (Pioneers Co-ordinator); Norman Mashabane (Labour Co-ordinator) and Vuyo Bodiya (Additional Member).