AN interview with Peter Mokaba, president of the South African Youth Congress (SAYCO).
Learn and Teach: Could you please tell us about the history of SAYCO?
Peter Mokaba: SAYCO’s history goes right back to the ANC’s efforts to organise the youth.
The ANC knows that we, the youth are one of the most important parts of the struggle and that the future is with us. As our leader, comrade Oliver Tambo says: Any country, people, or movement that does not care about its youth does not deserve its future.
It was in this light that the ANC Youth League was formed in 1944. After the movement was banned in 1960, there were many mass struggles. In all these struggles, it was the youth — under the South African Student Movement and other youth groupings — who were at the forefront. For example in June 1976, it was the youth who rose up against the education system. After that, more youths started to take part in the struggle.
Then in 1977, the government banned 17 organisations that opposed apartheid, including youth and student organisations. Two years later, the students formed the Congress of South African Students (COSAS).
Learn and Teach: What role did COSAS play in the formation of SAYCO?
Peter Mokaba: In 1979, when COSAS was formed, it gave a political home to the youth who were still at school. At the same time, COSAS took a decision to set up community youth organisations for those who had left school. COSAS members could join these community youth organisations.
This decision meant that a national youth organisation had to be formed. In 1982, COSAS helped to form a national co-ordinating committee called the National Youth Organisation (NYO). The task of the NYO was to work towards the formation of SAYCO by setting up more local youth congresses throughout the country.
When COSAS was banned in 1985, members of COSAS — who were also members of the local youth organisations — formed local, zonal and regional student congresses such as the Mamelodi Students’ Congress (MASCO), the Pretoria Students’ Congress (PRESCO) and the Southern Transvaal Students’ Congress (STRASCO).
These student congresses worked closely with the NYO. They felt the need to form a national youth organisation for all — students, working youth and the unemployed youth. On March 28 1987, this national youth organisation was launched. It was called SAYCO.
Learn and Teach: Apart from COSAS, what else helped in the formation of SAYCO?
Peter Mokaba: Firstly, we were helped by the struggles in the early 1980s and the formation of the UDF in 1983.
Then came 1985, “International Year of the Youth”. This year demanded of all youths — here and in other countries — to organise themselves and make their mark in the struggle for peace, justice and prosperity.
Lastly, there was the growing belief in the principle of non-racialism. Different youth organisations began to uphold this principle and it united them. Because this principle gives them something in common, it was easier for them to come together under one banner, the banner of SAYCO.
Learn and Teach: The members of SAYCO are known as the “Young Lions”. Why this title?
Peter Mokaba: The “Young Lions” is not an empty phrase. It is a title of honour and respect. Through our struggles, our youth have won for themselves this respect. It is also a phrase aimed at giving the youth strength as they defend their freedom, their people and their future. They are the lions because of their youth and their ability to use a large amount of energy in the struggle. They have shown over and over again that they are prepared to perform death-defying acts to gain victory.
Learn and Teach: What are SAYCO’s achievements since 1987?
Peter Mokaba: The formation of SAYCO under the State of Emergency is an achievement in itself. It has forged a national weapon of our people. And it has brought about the national co-ordination of all the youth congresses in our country.
Another achievement is that more and more of our white youth are being organised under SAYCO as full members who work alongside other youths as equals. This is happening in Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and in Johannesburg.
We have also moved into the rural areas and have launched many SAYCO branches in all the bantustans. We are proud to say that Venda is one of the strongest areas of the organisation in the Northern Transvaal. We were able to call a march of about 25 000 people in the Transkei in the “Save the Patriots Campaign”, a campaign against the death penalty. So I would say that we have covered almost all the main areas of South Africa.
Learn and Teach: What is SAYCO’s vision of a post-apartheid South Africa?
Peter Mokaba: Our vision of a new post- apartheid South Africa is not different from trie ANC’s. This vision is deeply rooted in the Freedom Charter and clearly set out in the ANC’s Constitutional Guidelines. We are talking about a non-racial, unitary and democratic South Africa.
Learn and Teach: What message can SAYCO give to the youth in South Africa?
Peter Mokaba: As the youth, we need to carry on struggling, organising, educating and getting stronger and stronger. We cannot sit back and say that freedom is around the corner. We must work hard to achieve our freedom. As the “Young Lions”, we should always roar!