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Reviewed by:
  • The ANC Youth Leagueby Clive Glaser
  • Sean Redding
Clive Glaser. The ANC Youth League. Ohio Short Histories of Africa. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2013. 168 pp. Photographs. Notes. Index. $14.95. Paper. ISBN: 978-0821420447.

The Youth League of the African National Congress was the organizational birthplace of a number of the most significant leaders of the ANC in the twentieth century, including Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Anton Lembede, and Robert Sobukwe in the 1940s. More recently, and more notoriously, Julius Malema used the Youth League in the early 2000s to build a base of political support before he was ultimately expelled from the ANC for his outspokenness. In this book, the historian Clive Glaser brings together the well-known history of the Youth League in the 1940s and ’50s with its little known history since the 1960s. Glaser draws comparisons between the fiery rhetoric of Africanism that Lembede and other Youth Leaguers brandished in the 1940s with Malema’s rhetoric and the broader disaffection of youth in South Africa in the early 2000s to show the continuing significance of youth as a force in South African politics.

Glaser’s book provides a well-written analysis of the competition between ideologies and strategies within the ANC. The first two short chapters begin [End Page 266]with the founding of the Youth League in 1940 on an Africanist platform, and follow with the Youth League’s rebellion against the older generation of ANC leaders in the late 1940s. The third chapter traces the more familiar story of the rise to senior leadership of Mandela, Tambo, and Sisulu and their shift away from a strident go-it-alone form of nationalism. But some of their old Youth League colleagues, such as Robert Sobukwe, saw their moderation as a sell-out of the old ideals. They tried to reorient the ideological foundation of the ANC, but, when they could not, they split off to form the Pan Africanist Congress.

Chapters 4–7 discuss the reemergence of youth as a political force from 1960 onward. The Youth League was nonfunctional from the 1960s through the 1980s. In its place the Black Consciousness Movement and the United Democratic Front gave youth guiding principles and channeled their militancy to become the driving force behind the revolt of the 1980s. On the heels of the dismantling of apartheid and the unbanning of the ANC in 1990, the Youth League was reestablished as youth continued to flex their political muscle. Youth League leaders were instrumental in the selection of Thabo Mbeki as Mandela’s deputy and ultimate successor as president in the post-1994 period. They were also instrumental in Mbeki’s political demise and the rise to power of Jacob Zuma despite his myriad political liabilities and questionable personal conduct.

Throughout, Glaser highlights the tensions between those leaders who stood for ideological purity as Africanists and those who gravitated to a more pragmatic approach that stressed ideological pluralism. The first split was between Youth League leaders and the ANC president in the 1940s, Dr. A. B. Xuma. The second came in the 1950s between those ANC leaders, particularly Mandela and Tambo, who pulled together the Congress Alliance and wrote the Freedom Charter, and the disillusioned Africanists, including Sobukwe and the hot-tempered Potlako Leballo. When the apartheid regime banned both the ANC and the PAC in the aftermath of the Sharpeville Massacre, Leballo became the PAC’s spokesman in exile and loudly proclaimed the Africanist program for liberation. Glaser sees Julius Malema’s rhetoric as ANCYL leader in the early 2000s as reminiscent of Leballo’s scorching pronouncements four decades earlier. Beyond the rhetoric, though, Glaser sees them appealing to a similar constituency: angry, disaffected young men who want real change immediately.

Malema and his allies helped to install Zuma in power. But as President Zuma began to operate on an international stage, Malema became an embarrassment and his marginalization within the ANC leadership began. Once again, the more pragmatic element within the nationalist organization won out over the more incendiary one, but this time with potentially greater and more harmful consequences to the ANC as a whole.

Toward the end of...


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pp. 266-268
Launched on MUSE
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