Address by Nelson Mandela at rally to celebrate the 58th anniversary of the ANC Youth League

27 October 2002

It is an extra-ordinary privilege for us to join with ANC Youth League as it celebrates its 58th anniversary.

The Youth League played such an important role in our own introduction to and entry into national politics that we are greatly honoured to celebrate with the current generation of members of the organisation this landmark occasion.

With you we pay homage to Comrade Anton Lembede, the Founding President of the Youth League. The reburial ceremony planned to commemorate the inspiring role he played in organising our youth into a potent force for change, is a fitting tribute to this great thinker and leader.

We pay tribute to and remember the host of leaders who guided the Youth League through these six decades, many of who went on to become leaders and heroes in the broader national struggle. And we remember proudly those millions of cadres who over these years made up the membership of the League; who were the body and soul of the organisation; and who were such integral part of our national liberation struggle.

The history of the ANC Youth League stands as testimony to the constructive role the organised youth of a country can and should play in helping to shape the course of that society. The manner in which the African National Congress could embrace its youth through the Youth League is, furthermore, testimony to the strength of an inclusive approach.

As we celebrate the fifty-eight years that lie behind us, it will be most fruitful and productive if we reflect on those lessons learnt and on how they apply in our present circumstances. For there can be no doubt that the contribution and the involvement of our youth to and in the burning national issues are as important and crucial as ever. It is therefore necessary that our youth are informed by thoughtful analysis and act in ways that are strategically considered.

The youth of a society have the generational benefit of energy and often an impatient idealism. It is those characteristics that, at their best, equip youth to play the powerful role of catalyst in the social and political affairs of an organisation and society. It is the manner in which that energy is harnessed and utilised that determines whether it is on the whole wasted in bravado or whether it constructively manifests as change-directing energy.

Those were the challenges the Youth League faced in our days, and they remain the challenges of today.

We recognised that if we were to play that catalyst role we had to be a constructive, integrated and disciplined part of our mother body and its various formations. By being integral to the organisation and not branding ourselves as engaged in marginal and spurious issues, we could optimise our role and influence. By being seen and heard to take seriously and act in a mature manner on the key issues of our mother body, we were taken seriously and our views given due consideration.

Our challenge was to develop a programme and a message around which the bulk of African youth could be mobilised. The message had to be one that could appeal to them and their concerns and that could lead them to support in spirit and action the struggle of our liberation movement.

That challenge has not fundamentally changed. It remains for the ANC Youth League to mobilise and organise the youth of South Africa in the broadest and most inclusive fashion. The message with which the Youth League is associated should be such that the broad spectrum of youth can identify with it, and through that message commit themselves to the key national tasks being pursued by the ANC as government.

The struggle for a better life for all and for a transformed society is certainly not over. However, not to recognise that the success of our liberation struggle has created new circumstances, could lead to us getting stuck in slogans and rhetoric and programmes that have little appeal to the broad sector of youth in our country today.

While the struggle continues, the focus has changed significantly. Despite all the transformation that still needs to occur, we do live in a normalised and democratic society where youth seeks to pursue a varied and multi-facetted range of activities. It is probably one of the deepest challenges to our Youth League, born out of the liberation struggle, to adapt to and accommodate the needs of a more normalised society in its programmes, projects and message.

We look to the ANC Youth League to give the lead to the youth of our nation in conducting themselves as self-confident builders of a new society - liberated from a sense of victimhood, secure in the knowledge that we have now taken control over our destiny.

There are many social issues waiting for our youth to play an active and leading role. Some of them, like the enormous crisis of HIV/AIDS, are matters of grave problematic dimensions. You, the youth leadership, should be seen and heard to be in the forefront of this new war we have to wage.

There are social issues of building a new society in which again your prominent voice and presence are required. We now need to hear our Young Lions roaring in the new key of democratic South Africa - a democratic state for which you fought as hard as any sector of our society.

We salute you, we salute the Youth League, we salute the African National Congress, and we salute the patriotic youth of our country.

May you grow from strength to strength.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation