I’ve never really understood youth leagues. A staple institution of of any socialist-leaning political parties, they always seem to be led by distinctly middle aged, generally paunchy men who have long left their youth behind them. Whether they are meant to represent all youth, and how exactly they get their mandate, is generally unclear; they generally just make a little bit of noise and are wheeled in whenever the real leadership needs to prove its not completely fuddy duddy and out of touch.
In South Africa, however, the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) has gone completely off script. Led by Julius Malema (and his spin doctor), they’ve launched themselves, full frontal, into political battles with just about everyone they can think of, including President Zuma himself (for which Malema recently received an official rap on the knuckles). And now it seems that Malema’s particular brand of loony populist politics is catching on with the lower cadres of the organisation.
The issue is toilets. Its been a long-running problem in a township outside Cape Town. About a year ago, the story broke that residents were being “forced to shit in full view of the public”, in the words of the ANCYL. A number of municipal toilets had been built, but without walls or roofs. Look at the picture – that’s a fully functional plain white toilet, open to the elements. The media were enraged. The ANC, and ANCYL, were enraged – but also secretlypleased. The ANC does not run the Western Cape, and the Democratic Alliance (DA) have been doing a pretty good job of it so far, so this was the first decent stick with which to beat the DA.
The story, of course, is more complicated than that. A source within the DA explained it to me. Turns out the DA had budgeted and planned to build a certain number of toilets, with enclosures and all. This would have served some of the township’s residents, but not the majority. The local community approached the local government and suggested that they instead install a functional toilet for every household, and leave it up to the houses to provide the shelter for it. This solution has provided far more people with access to sheltered plumbing. The toilets that have been left unsheltered are because the household in question cannot afford to put up its own enclosure.
Eventually, after much embarrassment to the DA, deserved or not, some aluminium shelters were installed on Monday. Still not good enough for the ANCYL – should have been concrete as far as they’re concerned. Within hours they had ripped down the aluminium shelters, and have come out with this statement, calling for Cape Town to be vandalised (how exactly this is an appropriate response is unclear):
“We are calling on all youth to do this [vandalise the city], especially those living in informal settlements. Our complaint is based on the reality that African people residing in Makhaza, Khayelitsha, are forced to shit in full view of the public. This satanic action by the city council is tantamount to gross human rights violations and undermines the people’s right for their dignity to be protected as stipulated in Section 10 of the Constitution.”
Oh dear. You have to admire them – it takes a lot of skill to mix swear words, religious adjectives and legal argument into one short statement. It doesn’t actually mean anything though, but it makes a great soundbite for the media (a trap into which this blog swiftly fell). But this sort of statement seems to be increasingly prevalent in South Africa’s political discourse. Where are all the sensible politicians? Governing, one hopes. Still, they need to keep an eye out, before this nonsense politics becomes the norm. Then the shit will really hit the fan, aluminium shelters notwithstanding.