17 December 2003

The historic YCL Re-establishment Congress

By Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

I am very proud that I joined and had the honour to address more than 500 young South African communists when they made history this last weekend. The Young Communist League of South Africa (YCLSA), banned in 1950, was relaunched at its Re-establishment Congress at the newly renamed Vaal University of Technology (which served the needs of the apartheid economy) in Vanderbijlpark, one of the traditional strongholds of apartheid.

This historic event marked an important reversal of the dissolution of the YCL after the banning of the Communist Party of South Africa under the Suppression of Communism Act in 1950. When the South African Communist Party (SACP) was reconstituted underground in 1953, the YCL was never reconstituted. The YCL Re-Establishment Congress therefore made history by relaunching the YCL exactly in the year we are commemorating 50 years of the reconstitution of our Party underground in 1953. In essence it was an occasion “unbanning” the YCL after 53 years, thus reversing one of the most obnoxious actions of the apartheid regime! The relaunch is an important landmark in the new history of a democratic South Africa, particularly for the historically oppressed and exploited people of our country.

The relaunch of the YCL goes back to the first legal Congress of the Party after it was unbanned in 1990: at the 1991 Congress, there was extensive debate on how the Party must organise and mobilise young people. This debate continued in the 1995 and 1998 Congress and it culminated in the 2002 Congress Resolution for the re-establishment of the YCL. Since the July 2002 decision, 16 months have passed; we have established Provincial Steering Committees in all provinces, District Steering Committees and we have reached out to several thousands of young people who have an interest in joining and building the YCL. The YCL Congress marked the second phase and completion of the 11th Congress of the Party itself! The Congress was held in the same spirit as the 11th Congress – militant, extensive and open debate and full participation by all.

The future is socialism, The future is the YCL

The Congress was a clear declaration to all that capitalism has no future for the youth, and the future for the youth is being destroyed by capitalism. Only under socialism can the youth be able to realise its aspirations. By launching the YCL, young South African Communists are re-shaping their own future. Those who thought by banning our Party in 1950 they are destroying communist ideas in our country, they are mistaken, there can be no democratic South Africa without communists.

Listening to the questions and discussions which took place at thus YCL Congress reaffirmed my belief that contrary to our enemies and detractors, communist ideas are not outdated, but provide the only hope for the youth of our country. Eradication of poverty, exploitation, all forms of inequality cannot be achieved under a capitalist dispensation. Yes we can make a lot of advances towards eradication of poverty, but it is only a socialist dispensation that will finally eradicate poverty.

Indeed, the YCL is the future organisational base and leadership of the Communist Party itself: iinkomo ezingenamgqeku ziyafa! By relaunching the YCL, we are very consciously understanding the reality, that we are indeed shaping the very future of the South African Communist Party.

Young Communists in our history

The YCL relaunch is also in the same year as the 21st anniversary of the cowardly assassination of that communist hero, Ruth First, who was a member and militant of the Young Communist League in the 1940s. Because of all this there is a very heavy responsibility on the new YCL to carry on the proud tradition of Ruth First, and indeed all other communists, particularly those who perished in their youth struggling for the ideals of national liberation and socialism. These include communist heroes like Johannes Nkosi, gunned down by colonial police in Durban in 1930, the Lion of Chiawelo, who died in combat in a brave confrontation with the apartheid security forces in Soweto, Chule “KK” Papiyana, and Smiso Nkwanyana. Joe Slovo himself, Esther Barsel, Brian Bunting and many others joined the Communist Party via the YCL. The inspiring messages that the YCL Congress received from Ahmed Kathrada, Esther Barsel and Brian Bunting reminded these young communists of the nature of the tasks that they face. It was moving that There also could have been no better commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the assassination of our late General Secretary, Cde Chris Hani, than through this historic launch of the YCL. The new YCL has a massive responsibility to act like Chris Hani – by becoming dedicated and disciplined communist cadres.

What is the role and tasks of the YCL?

The Party and the YCL

In its activities the YCL should act to strengthen, build and defend the Party and its ideals. Without a strong Party there can be no strong YCL, and without a strong YCL there can be no strong Party. This also means that the YCL has the task to ensure that the SACP, must be defended at all costs. The YCL cannot allow the Party to be ridiculed, belittled or attacked from whatever quarter. But in doing this we do not expect the YCL to act like a loudhailer, to simply magnify what the Party says. Therefore the YCL has to nurture and promote the culture of open debate, engagement, criticism and self-criticism.

This also needs to include that the YCL must jealously guard against using the YCL as a springboard for political battles, as a battleground for leadership positions and contests in the Party or in any other allied structure. This would kill both the YCL and the Party. Communists hate opportunism, careerism and factionalism.

The YCL, the working class and the ANC Youth League

The bedrock of the YCL should be young workers working in alliance with students and young unemployed workers, both in the urban and rural areas. With regards to young workers, the YCL structures should immerse themselves in struggles to defend jobs and to fight retrenchments and to struggle for workplace skills development for young workers. Young workers are the most vulnerable when it comes to retrenchments. The YCL working with other youth organisations must engage with the SETAs to ensure that young workers benefit from skills development funds, and that individual employers do provide training for young workers. This is a very important dimension of building working class power in the place of production, which is one of the key components of Party programmes.

The YCL must also work to ensure that addresses the needs and interests of marginalised youth – in rural areas, in informal settlements, unemployed youth, youth outside of educational institutions, youth involved in crime and all other marginalised youth.

Young women

Significantly, the YCL Congress was attended by more than 180 young women of a total of 500 delegates. This poses the task of how the YCL should also pay particular attention to recruitment of young women workers, and be the primary training ground for young women communists. The struggle for gender transformation cannot be advanced, unless we strengthen the organisation of women. Communist women form an important component of the broader women’s struggles and the struggles for gender transformation. The YCL needs to lead campaigns to defeat sexist ideas and stereotypes both within the Party and in broader society. The YCL needs to build the youth of today and tomorrow, not the youth of yesterday which believes in inferiority of women. It is only by recruiting much more young women into the Party that we can achieve this.

An important part of the struggle for gender equality, is a critical examination and engagement with activities, TV or radio programmes, and other forms of entertainment liked by the youth today. The YCL should closely examine the extent to which these activities continue to foster and reproduce women’s inferiority, young women as objects of pleasure for young men, and the whole ideological underpinnings of these activities. This means work where the youth is and seek to influence them in the very areas and activities that they like in order to defeat sexism and gender inequality. This is by the way not a licence for endless jorling in the name of taking forward the work of the YCL!


The YCL must also act in the true tradition of the Party, as a pioneer and promoter of non-racialism. In this regard the YCL should properly grasp the interrelationship between class, the national question and gender in our revolution. As the Party programme says, the only way to deepen and consolidate the national democratic revolution, is by seeking to tackle these three contradictions, as interrelated contradictions, that cannot be isolated from each other. For instance, the YCL must be in the forefront in taking forward the struggles to address the national question, by giving its correct class and gender content.

The ANC Youth League

The YCL should also seek to work with all progressive youth formations in our country, region, continent and globally. Principal amongst these organisations is the ANC Youth League. You must ensure that all communist youth join and actively participate in the structures and programmes of the ANC YL. We must never act in a competitive manner to this formation, instead we should seek to strengthen it. We must ensure that the voice of the communist youth is felt within the ANC Youth League, and assist it in ensuring that it draws into its ranks the widest possible sections of youth in our country.

The challenge of the HIV/AIDS pandemic

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the YCL is to join with all other forces in society to fight and defeat the scourge of HIV/AIDS. This is the single biggest challenge to your future. To protect its future, and to protect the struggle for socialism, and a socialist future, the YCL must throw its full weight behind the struggle against the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

This Congress took place at a time when our government has adopted a comprehensive programme on HIV/AIDS, including prevention, awareness and treatment. There is no better platform on which to take forward this struggle. Our nation is now more united than ever on a common approach to dealing with this pandemic. But government alone will not be able to deal with the pandemic. This requires the mobilisation of all our people, in particular the youth, to support this programme.

In the same week that this YCL Congress was held, we witnessed the rolling back of the logic profit maximisation through the agreement signed at the Competition Commission by several drug companies. This is an important landmark and achievement. We must use this as a basis for ensuring that as many of our people as possible have access to life-saving medicines but also to ensure that local production capacity is enhanced.

The YCL and the 2004 Elections

The very first task of the YCL is to effectively participate and earnestly work towards ANC victory in the 2004 elections. The most immediate task is that of preparing yourselves for a massive drive for the second window of voter registration on 25 and 26 January 2004.

The YCL must to implement a comprehensive programme in line with the ANC’s election plan and the Party’s election programme starting with the mobilisation of the youth to register and vote for the ANC!

Home of young communists

Finally, young communists have their own political home and organ. They must nurture, build and grow it.