When COSAS was banned in 1985, the youth of South Africa were left without an organisation that they could call their own.
Now, with the birth of the South African Youth Congress (SAYCO), the youth once again have an organisation to work and fight for.
SAYCO, launched secretly in Cape Town on March 25, has 600 000 members. It is already the biggest single member organisation of the UDF.
What does SAYCO stand for? What are its aims? Learn and Teach spoke to the leaders of this new organisation that people call the young lion of the struggle. We spoke to the Peter Mokaba (President), Rapu Molekane (General Secretary), Fawcett Mathebe (Treasurer), and Ephraim Nkoe (Education Officer).
Learn and Teach: Why was SAYCO formed?
SAYCO: Before COSAS was banned, we were already talking about the need for one organisation for all the youth in South Africa. COSAS had thousands of members all around the country – but they only organised the students.
We want all the youth to come together, whether they are workers, students or unemployed. All the youth in South Africa must be united.
We also wanted to fill the gaps left by our leaders who are in prison. It is the aim of the government to leave us without our leaders.
Learn and Teach: Did you have problems launching SAYCO?
SAYCO: The first State of Emergency taught us a lot. We were prepared for the second one. We learned how to organise underground. Many people thought we would launch SAYCO in Durban – but at the last minute we changed to Cape Town.
Youth leaders from all over South Africa came to the launch. Nine out of the ten regions that make up SAYCO were present. Only one region did not make it.
Learn and Teach: What are the aims of SAYCO?
SAYCO: The main aim of SAYCO is to organise all the youth – black, Indian, “coloured” or white. We are a non racial organisation.
We want to organise all the unemployed youth. The working and unemployed youth must struggle together with the student youth for a non-racial education in South Africa.
Our other important aim is to build unity between the youth and the workers. The youth have been fighting their struggles alone -and the workers have been struggling alone in the factories.
We want to join hands with the workers because we believe it is the workers who must lead the struggle for our freedom.
Women must also know that they are the leaders of tomorrow. If they are to be good leaders, they must start leading now. Women must fight side by side with men. SAYCO will work hard to build this equality between men and women.
Learn and Teach: What are the problems facing SAYCO now?
SAYCO: At the moment we have 600 000 members. This is a problem because there are millions of youth still to be organised. The State of Emergency will make our job difficult. But we are finding ways to build our organisation.
The government is trying to make people believe that we are a terrorist organisation, just like they do with the UDF and COSATU. They have these Joint Management Committees. These committees want to make the youth forget the struggle, and to forget that they are oppressed.
Superstition and witchcraft, especially in our Northern Transvaal region, is another problem. Superstition is one part our culture that is backward and we have to get rid of it.
Learn and Teach: How are you going to solve these problems?
SAYCO: We have started a number of committees. For example, we have a committee to make our organisation popular. This committee produces leaflets, booklets and posters that tell the youth about our organisation.
There is also the education committee. This committee will run workshops and educate the youth about the kind of struggle we are fighting here. These workshops will help sharpen the ideas of the youth and prepare them for leadership.
Learn and Teach: How will you work with other organisations?
SAYCO: We are proud to be the largest organisation in the UDF. SAYCO will make the UDF a stronger and bigger organisation.
We also sent our message of support to Cosatu. We support their living wage campaign and the “Hands off Cosatu” campaign. We ask our members who are workers to become members of COSATU as well. We hope to work closely with COSATU in the future.
We will also work with other organisations that are fighting for change and those that support the Freedom Charter as the leading light.
Learn and Teach: How does a youth join SAYCO?
SAYCO: There are youth congresses all over South Africa that make up SAYCO. There is even a youth congress in a faraway rural place called My Darling in the Northern Transvaal.
These youth congresses are divided into 10 regions. The regions are Southern, Northern and Eastern Transvaal. Then there is Southern, Western, Eastern and Northern Cape as well as Border. And there is Natal and Free State.
A youth cannot join SAYCO alone. You must first join the youth congress in your area and help to organise the youth. The youth congress can then join SAYCO.
Learn and Teach: What is your message to the youth and all South Africans?
SAYCO: With the birth of SAYCO, the youth have brought the struggle closer to victory. But we need to build and defend SAYCO. We have to organise the unorganised. History has taught us that we need unity to win.
We also salute those who are in prison because they fought for a free non racial South Africa. And we remember those who have died in the struggle. That is why we ask all the youth to re member April 6 as Solomon Mahlangu Day.
Lastly, we want to remind people of our slogan: “Freedom or Death, Victory is Certain.”