Onward Marching Comrades: The career of the charterist movement in Diepkloof, Soweto

Onward Marching Comrades: The career of the charterist movement in Diepkloof, Soweto

Marks, M. (1995). Onward Marching Comrades: The career of the charterist movement in Diepkloof, Soweto. Paper presented at The History Workshop Conference at the University of the Witwatersrand, June.


Monique Marks

Paper presented at the History Workshop Conference at the University of the Witwatersrand, July 1995.

Monique Marks is a former Researcher at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.

This paper explores the decline of the Charterist youth movement in Diepkloof in the early nineties. It argues that while this movement developed very slowly in the eighties, it soon became a strong, well organised force in the township. After the unbanning of political organisations on February 2, 1990, this movement became significantly less coherent in form and content; it had weakened internal organisational capacity; the loss of politically astute leadership; and was characterised by a membership that was increasingly unaccountable and politically "illiterate". This had, and will undoubtedly continue to have, a negative influence on this movement's ability to impact on democratic processes in South Africa.1

A Youth Organisation in the Eighties

Early Organisation in Diepkloof

By the early nineties, Diepkloof was seen as one of the most politically active townships in Soweto, and possibly even in the PWV.2 Journalist Aggrey Klaaste referred to Diepkloof as "one of the most volatile townships".3 The youth of Diepkloof were deemed to be militant and organised. Caiphus Mothibe, chairperson of the Daveyton branch of Cosas (Congress of South African Students) in 1984 stated that:

Diepkloof has been very politically active. Many of the leadership of Cosas in the eighties came from Diepkloof. Cosas had very strong bases in this area, particularly at Madibane High. Also, the number of youth arrested in Diepkloof was very high compared with other areas.4

However, according to Seekings,5 Soweto generally was relatively quiet after 1976. While youth leaders of the seventies in some other townships (particularly in the Vaal Triangle and East Rand) actively developed youth structures in the early eighties, in Soweto generally, but even more so in Diepkloof, there seems to have been a leadership vacuum amongst the youth. This can probably be explained in part, as does6 Lebelo, by the fact that Diepkloof itself is a resettlement township made up of residents from Sophiatown and Alexandra in the late fifties. The social dislocation of residents and the highly repressive machinery enforced in these townships by the Urban Resettlement Board, kept Diepkloof quiet.

In fact, older residents who experienced growing discontent with local councillors over a range of local issues such as rent increases and evictions, began to form alternative civic organisations in the late seventies. Thus, "the proliferation of 'radical' or 'progressive' civic organisations, often referred to as community organisations or civics, was one of the most striking features of township politics from 1979".7

It was only in 1982 that youth activists began to emerge in Diepkloof and started a long, hard struggle to organise youth in the area. In fact, these ensuing youth organisations only began to take any real shape as late as 1984. It was the broader adult civic struggles around issues like rent that were taken up by township residents in the early eighties that provided politically active youth with inroads to become involved. One of the "veteran" youth activists of the eighties commented that "in Diepkloof we had a funny situation where in the beginning the civic was more active than the youth".8

Civic struggles throughout Soweto and elsewhere began to escalate with the introduction of the Black Authorities Act in 1983. The anger of residents towards councillors mounted as councils increased rents, evicted defaulters and demolished shacks, and it was further fuelled by the lack of services rendered and allegations of widespread corruption. Residents, largely organised under civic associations, called on councillors to resign. Initially protests were peaceful, but when residents' demands and concerns were not acknowledged and dealt with, protests became more confrontational and eventually, violent.

Civics began to call on residents to boycott rents, and later bonds. The local councillors as a result were thrust into greater debt and became increasingly ineffective. As civics took up more and more community concerns, they grew from strength to strength, and even broadened their scope to include social welfare – for example, the Diepkloof Civic Association began to run feeding schemes for pensioners.9 Civics later began to extend their operations to taking up campaigns for national political change.

The activities of the civics, particularly the rent boycotts, also encouraged student struggles at the time and reinvigorated the old tactics of school and class boycotts. Student and civic struggles became interlinked and for students, conflict shifted from the schools to the streets. At the same time, civics and other community organisations became increasingly concerned with the crisis in the schools and the struggles of school students.

Youth Organise

Thus, it was through the civic structure in Diepkloof that youth became involved in political activism; but they saw a need for forming independent youth structures such as those in other townships.

In Diepkloof, youth were not particularly active in the early eighties, particularly the student youth. It took time for proper formation of structures in Soweto generally … . Youth activities were sporadic and reactive. It was only really in 1982 that youth in Diepkloof began to start to organise.10

In 1982, a small group of concerned school-going youth started to work night and day to set up youth structures in the township. These core activists at the time were in Form Two (aged about sixteen) and it was only later that the older school-going youth in forms four and five began to help setting up these structures. Two main organisations were to set up a presence in Diepkloof – Cosas, a student organisation formed in 1979; and the Soweto Youth Congress (Soyco).11

While Cosas nationally had been launched in 1979, the Diepkloof branch of Cosas only began to formalise in 1984, when two or three school-going youth who had been involved in civic campaigns took the responsibility of setting it up. However, Cosas only catered for school going-youth and there was a concern that some structure had to cater for unemployed and working youth:

Those of us who tried to get Cosas off the ground decided that Cosas activists should work with school going youth but also try to set up youth congresses to cater for youth who were not schooling. We found ourselves playing a dual role. We were student activists during the day, and in the afternoons and evenings we were active with other youth and in the civic.12

This sentiment was in line with a resolution taken by Cosas nationally in 1982 to set up youth congresses that would cater for youth who were no longer in school.

Setting up Soyco in Diepkloof was a difficult task. Diepkloof youth activists had to work very closely with activists from surrounding areas in the early stages of the organisation:

Although the Soweto Youth Congress was launched in 1983, in Diepkloof we were only able to form in 1984. Even then we had to form the Orlando-Diepkloof branch because there were so few activists in Diepkloof. Setting up the youth congresses was not easy. Firstly, youth organisations were new in our area and secondly, those youth who were involved were more involved in Cosas.13

Eventually, by 1984, there were enough youth participating in Cosas and Soyco to form independent branches in Diepkloof. This date, in fact, coincides with the period in which resistance began to take hold nationally. Both youth organisations in Diepkloof began to take up local civic campaigns such as the rent boycott and the call for the resignation of councillors; as well as national campaigns such as those calling for the release of political prisoners. Youth organisations also took up campaigns that had specific resonance for youth, such calls for recreational facilities and anti-drug crusades. Cosas was engaged in campaigns of immediate concern to school-going youth such as those against age limits for school students, demands for democratic Student Representative Councils (SRC's), and an end to corporal punishment. The number of youth prepared to participate in these youth structures began to grow.

During 1985 these organisations in Diepkloof set up a systematic approach to training activists. The first "layer" of leaders undertook to train a second "layer". More experienced activists, both from youth organisations and other organisations that formed part of the Charterist youth movement, held training workshops at all levels of organisation – local, regional and national. These emerging youth leaders were also provided with and encouraged to read material about the history, strategy and tactics of the Charterist movement. This often included banned material, such as that published by the ANC and the SACP, brought into the country through the underground movement and distributed clandestinely. This grouping came to be known as the "1985 detachment" and constituted a new and important second layer leadership layer; it was to hold the youth organisations together when key youth leaders were detained time and time again throughout the mid- and late eighties.

Repression Increases

The period from 1985-1988 was marked by attempts by the state to crush organisations that were the core of the national uprisings.14 The youth, in particular, were ruthlessly dealt with. Youth activists interviewed claimed that 200 youth were detained in Diepkloof in 1985, many of whom were not leaders. In fact, Diepkloof was probably more severely dealt with than most townships in Soweto since it marked the division between the city of Johannesburg and the townships of Soweto.

The repressive tactics of the state brought about new forms of organisation for youth everywhere, along with new strategies and tactics. In 1985, after its Kabwe Conference,15 the then exiled ANC called for "ungovernability" and "peoples' power". Ungovernability referred to those situations where "the organs of civil government had either collapsed, or had effectively been rendered inoperable by mass and/or violent opposition".16

The imposition of the state of emergency and the banning of Cosas in 1985 also changed the nature of organisations locally. Although it forced them to operate clandestinely, it paradoxically strengthened Soyco in Diepkloof:

In late 1985, we started to build a strong Soyco branch and to have our own programmes of action. We also began to establish local UDF area committees. At this point we divided Dieplkloof into zones and to work in street committees. This was informed by the idea of peoples' power. Youth were now at the forefront of establishing these structures. – Thabo

The banning of Cosas in 1985 and the ensuing detention of key leadership never led to its complete collapse. "While these actions limited the effective co-ordination of the student movement, it had now become too powerful to be stopped by decapitation, and the measures taken achieved only limited and temporary reductions in student action".17 The secret manner in which these organisations were forced to operate meant that only key youth leaders who were trusted and experienced were involved in deciding where meetings would take place and how they would be conducted:

Before the banning and the state of emergency, we in Cosas used to meet as big groups of students. After we had to develop sub-structures in different schools and each sub-structure would delegate two trusted people to go to general meetings where most things would be planned and evaluated … . Before meetings we would all meet at a point and then move to a secret venue … . Only about two or three people would know where the secret venue would be. – Namedi

This seems to have been a general trend amongst youth organisations nationally during this period.18 In fact, in the mid- late eighties, activists who engaged in resistance politics had a clearer vision than ever before – they wished to eradicate what they saw as the structures and backbone of apartheid. The "enemy" was clearly defined. It consisted of the apartheid state and its apparatuses, especially its repressive apparatuses; as well as capitalist oppression. This can in part be attributed to the launching of the UDF in August 1983. Its aims were to "remove all racial oppression; … to remove the grip of the monopoly companies over our country; to build democratic majority rule in a unified South Africa."19 Swilling argues that the UDF had particularly strong and well organised local affiliates "in most areas surrounding Johannesburg/Pretoria (eg Soweto, Tembisa, Mamelodi and parts of Lenasia)".20

Strategy, Ideology and Leadership

In Diepkloof, while there may not have been direct intervention by the regional UDF in developing campaigns and organisational structures, the impact of the UDF on local politics was significant. The youth in Diepkloof took up campaigns that were regionally and nationally developed, particularly campaigns around civic issues, such as the rent boycott. Through the UDF, youth structures also came into contact with youth and other structures in Soweto, was well as areas further afield. Moreover, Diepkloof set up its own area committees to co-ordinate the activities of the various organisations in the township and develop their own generally well conceived and planned programmes of action.

The concern of youth organisations and their leadership was not merely to mobilise youth for action, to "bring apartheid to its knees". They also aimed to organise youth. This was particularly the case during the state of emergency. Youth began to think more strategically about their role in resistance, and the slogan, "From Mobilisation to Organisation" became popular in the period between 1986-1988.21 In other words, activists aimed to bring those youth who participated in resistance politics and activities under the disciplinary processes of youth organisations, so that their activities were not spontaneous and undirected. This involved trying to get youth to have a common understanding of political processes and appropriate forms of collective action. It also involved instilling a sense of commitment and accountability to the national liberation struggle generally, and to the policies and codes of conduct of youth organisations specifically.

Being a youth activist meant attending and participating in meetings regularly, as well as carrying out and reporting back on tasks delegated at the meetings. Owing to the sensitive nature of being an activist, compounded by the general breakdown of schooling in the eighties, the youth organisations became sites of rigorous political education and training:

We would always start meetings with education. We would discuss democracy and how to organise. We would discuss informal and formal resistance. Then people would understand. – Lumkile

Youth believed that in order to contribute adequately to "struggle" and to their organisations, they had to be knowledgeable about what was happening around them. Without this "knowledge" and understanding, youth activists believed they would not be able to plan appropriate strategies and tactics. Education processes were also necessary so that youth activists could engage in debates and discussions with members of contesting organisations, as well as members of the community whom the youth hoped to "baptise" into the Charterist movement. Youth leadership would try to educate activists through distributing political literature and engaging in extensive discussions. Activists not only had to be well versed in the history of the liberation movement and the role and nature of the South African state, but also in strategies and tactics of resistance.

Being a youth activist in the eighties meant not only being active in acts of resistance, but being constantly willing to learn and educate oneself. In fact, it seems that many youth joined organisations partly to be educated as to "what was going on":

Firstly when I started to join the organisation, I wasn't having that light of what this organisation was fighting for … . Then I started attending meetings with them. Then it was when I started to see the light because there were political speeches being delivered in the meetings and we had discussions … . Then the leaders told me since you are here and you are a member of the organisation, you are in the struggle and fighting for your rights, and you must know that when you are fighting for your rights, you must know you are going to go to jail or even be killed … . This is when I started to search for more information to see what is happening in this country generally. Then by attending meetings then I became motivated and knowing what was the cause of me being in the organisation and struggling. – Nika

It was in the eighties that the conception of what it meant to be a "comrade" was really developed amongst the youth. In Diepkloof, and no doubt elsewhere, the term comrade embodied a particular morality. To be a comrade, one had to have a concern for the community at large and strive to uphold all that is "good" against all that is "evil":

The comrades are different from other youth in that they are politically conscious, there approach to things is different from the youth which is not politically conscious, which is not having political education. I mean, their approach generally is different like most of the comrades are not drinking and are not taking liquor, and all that because they are having an education about it, they are conscious of the effect of that … I think that comrades are the people who are disciplined, they are conscious of a number of things. – Musi

Being a comrade hence involved distinguishing oneself from other members of the community; it meant being discerning in one's behaviour at all times. The comrades had to be informed of the consequence of their behaviour. Drinking and taking drugs – both a serious problem amongst township youth – were strongly condemned by the activist youth, since these activities gave rise to a lack of control over one's behaviour and reduced the capacity for behaving in a constructive and purposive manner. The comrades perceived themselves, and were perceived by other members of the community to be different – in a sense they developed a sub-culture of their own. This sub-culture seems to have involved a certain ascetism, an avoidance of frivolous activities. Instead of going to shebeens and parties, the comrades would read, have political discussions and go to meetings.

The need for clear political programmes, as well as the dangerous conditions under which activists carried out their activities, called for leaders who were respected, well-versed in local and national politics, and above all, had a remarkable commitment to the national liberation movement. Youth activists knew that they were engaged in dangerous activities; leaders of the eighties were people whom the youth activists trusted with their lives:

The eighties leadership was determined, committed, loyal and disciplined. Conditions made leadership to be determined in the eighties. To be a leader in the eighties, you had to prove yourself as someone who had knowledge and could be trusted. – Namedi

If leaders had to be disciplined, so did members. Attempts to reduce their spontaneous action led youth organisations to demand that their members behaved in a "disciplined" manner both when engaged as members of the organisation and as members of the community. Without this notion of discipline, and during a period of ungovernability, activist youth would not have any right to recall. Organisations had the right to ask members to account for their behaviour and to reprimand members whose behaviour was deemed problematic. The conception of "discipline" formed a part of the discourse of activist youth. In fact, "discipline" was what separated "good comrades" from other township youth. Members of the youth organisations were dealt with very severely if they transgressed the code of conduct of the organisation or decisions that were taken in meetings. To act in an unacceptable manner was tantamount to bringing the organisation – and consequently the liberation movement – into disrepute.

It was when I joined Cosas in 1987 that I learned that one had to be disciplined and do things in a correct manner knowing why you are doing it. – Lumkile

Limitations and Constraints

It would be too simple, however, to see youth organisations in Diepkloof during this period as well organised groups of politicised youth with clear programmes of action and committed leadership forwarding the struggle against apartheid with discipline as the guiding principal. Two main problems affected their nature and capacity to carry out campaigns in the most orderly and co-ordinated manner possible.

Firstly, most of the youth leadership in Diepkloof were detained continually throughout the eighties. The absence of leadership brought with it serious problems for the youth organisations. New less effective "layers" of leadership emerged, and their political judgement was perhaps less certain than that of the leaders who were in detention:

1986 was a time when a lot of cream leadership was behind bars. Activities were taken by other levels of leadership. Problematic campaigns started to develop like the "pass one, pass all campaign". The real leadership became spectators since they were in prison. They could not take full control of the situation. These youth lacked vision of the whole situation, and the youth struggle at large. There were also a lot of necklaces and killing of sell-outs during this time.22

The issue of leadership moving in and out of youth organisations appears to have caused significant problems in Diepkloof. Core youth leadership in Diepkloof were able to give guidence and direction to youth for a number of reasons. Firstly, these youth had made a concerted effort to be in touch with the issues of the day and the role of political organisations during this period. As activists, their entire existence was dedicated to the liberation movement, in particular youth organisations, and they were concerned that the comrade youth should set an example to the community as being truly "patriotic" citizens. When leaders went into hiding or were detained, new and less experienced activists assumed leadership roles. This often led to misguided campaigns and a decrease in control over the membership. This, compounded by the absence of respected and well-known leadership often led to a decrease in support from the community. The core leadership did try to develop youth activists into leaders who could take over in times of crisis. This was particularly successful with regards the "1985 detachment". A few members of the "detachment" escaped long spells in detention and were able to exert some control and leadership during periods when most of the leadership were detained. And, even when most of the core leadership were detained, the youth organisations still managed to develop structures and leadership:

There were basic problems of youth seeing themselves as leadership without necessary training and experience. These were problems of personality, but they were quite easy to deal with because most of the youth activists, and the comrades more broadly, were disciplined and accountable.23

The second key problem confronted by youth organisations in the eighties was that of non-organised (as well as less disciplined members of the organisation) participating in the campaigns of youth organisations. In the eighties, youth who would be considered activists, formed only a percentage of the youth who participated in mass-based campaigns called by youth organisations. Lodge has identified this as a problem within the UDF more broadly. He states that "its capacity for marshalling disciplined support [was] questionable".24 He attributes this to the uncertain relationship that the UDF had with "a well established trade union movement", and more generally, because the "UDF function[ed] more in the fashion of a social movement than a deliberately contrived political machine".25

The majority of youth in Diepkloof, whether members of political organisations or not, were actively involved in street politics of the day. Those youth who were not bound to a code of conduct were, of course, far more difficult to bring to recall than activist youth. While unaccountable youth did tend to take the "law of politics" into their own hands at times, these youth were easily identified by youth leadership and ordinary activists, and consequently brought to order:

The youth leadership during this period was generally in control of the youth in the township. If the community felt some action taken was irresponsible and problematic, the leadership would track that person/people down and punish them. Leadership always knew what was going on, and by what kind of youth. This sense of control made the police very resentful of youth activists and they wanted youth activists removed.26

It seems that there was an omnipresence of youth activists in Diepkloof that watched over the activities of all youth. However, often undisciplined youth were only brought to order after committing acts that were deemed "problematic".

In the eighties, youth who were identified as being primarily responsible for undisciplined behaviour were the unemployed. These youth were seen as difficult to organise, and as making use of political campaigns for their own benefit, for example, youth who participated in a march and looted local shops to get food and other goods to survive. However, these problematic tactics often spread to other youth who seemed to get carried away with the process of ungovernability:

It was mainly the unemployed youth who got involved in things like looting. Looting gave them something to do and would give them something to eat. Unemployed youth also encouraged school-going youth to leave school. At times, even organised youth were involved in these actions that the community complained about. The general mood of ungovernability led to this. We would discourage youth from stoning buses, for example, as this would antagonise the parents. But it was difficult to have control over youth with regards to these activities. After activities like a march, anything could happen. When leadership were around, we had some control. But most youth were mobilised, not organised. – Lumkile

The difficulties caused by leadership's movement in and out of youth organisations in the eighties, as well as the problem of controlling ill-disciplined and unorganised youth, continued into the early nineties. They have, in fact, intensified for a number of reasons, which will be explored in the rest of the paper.

Youth Organisations in the Early Nineties

The material conditions of the youth of Diepkloof worsened in the early nineties. In many townships, the crisis in education worsened, and teacher-pupil violence increased.27 By early 1993, schools came to a virtual standstill for over three weeks.28 Unemployment, while severe in the eighties, was on the increase. The townships remained poorly serviced with inadequate housing, and local government was in a piteous state.

While these factors undoubtedly played a part in shaping the consciousness and organisation of youth, it is important to note that the most crucial feature of the early nineties was the immense changes on the political terrain. The unbanning of the ANC and other political organisations on February 2, 1990 was followed by the emergence of a new political era – that of negotiations for a political settlement in South Africa. The negotiations process had serious implications for the liberation movement on the ground, and in particular for the organisations of the Charterist social movement.

While in the eighties the ANC was at the centre of the resistance movement,29 after the unbannings, there was a significant shift in its tactics and strategies. At its Consultative Conference in December 1990, the ANC committed itself to expanding "mass action" as well as to consultation with local branches; but this did not, in fact, prove to be a central focus in its subsequent strategy.30 Instead the movement focused its energies on negotiations for a political settlement at the national level. This new commitment was not, however, unproblematic. At various stages of the negotiations process, the state proved to be acting in "bad faith" and this evoked anger and disillusionment from some members of the national executive of the ANC, and even more anger from ordinary ANC members. Frene Ginwala, head of research for the ANC, in examining why the ANC moved "in and out of Codesa [Congress for a Democratic South Africa]" stated the following of the negotiations:

Having begun with the perception that the National Party was led by a man of integrity and was genuinely seeking a negotiated solution, the feeling grew that in fact the levers of state power were being manipulated in order to weaken the ANC and hence force it in whatever negotiations followed to make compromises over the types of changes we believed were necessary in any political organisation. There was considerable anger at the grassroots and within the ANC leadership.31

Nonetheless, the ANC was concerned to keep the negotiations process on track. By June 1993, the NP and the ANC were devising mechanisms for implementing a "government of national unity" – an activity that preoccupied the ANC almost entirely. This led Tokyo Sexwale, chairperson of the ANC's PWV region, to state at the region's annual general meeting in 1993 that "the ANC had become a negotiations department of a struggle which concerned itself mainly, or only, with issues pertaining to the demand for an interim government, the constituent assembly and elections".32 After the beginning of the negotiations process, local branches of the ANC, as well as local activists, repeatedly complained about the lack of consultation by regional and national structures of the ANC, and expressed a general sense of powerlessness in relation to the process.33

Also on the political front, new forms of political violence emerged in the early nineties, taking on novel and more sinister forms. Whole squatter communities were attacked and many massacred; and black commuters were killed on trains. Violence took on an ethnic and inter-political dimension, which was less prevalent and overt in the eighties, apart from in Natal. Inkatha, particularly, but also the state's secret organisations and maverick ex-policemen, were implicated in the majority of these attacks.34 This political violence led not only to intermittent relapses in negotiations, but also to local organisations having to develop defensive strategies, and to a weakening of the internal mechanisms of these organisations.

Youth Organisations since February 1990

The news of the unbanning of political organisations and the promise of free political activity by the State President in 1990 was received with jubilation by the youth of Diepkloof. A new space had been opened up for both the organised and previously unorganised, yet sympathetic youth of Diepkloof, to express their sympathy with the liberation struggle openly and without fear of repression.

As we have seen, before February 1990, both Soyco and Cosas branches in Diepkloof had emerged as strong forces in the township. Sosco (Soweto Students' Congress) in Diepkloof had "unbanned" itself in August 1989 at a meeting at which 1000 youth were present. Subsequently, Cosas nationally was relaunched during May of 1990.

Soyco underwent fundamental changes after the unbannings. After the ANC Youth Section in exile returned to South Africa, it was decided that Sayco (of which Soyco was a part) would disband, which it did in April 1990,35 and the ANCYL would be relaunched.36 On October 27, 1990, the Provisional National Youth Committee was launched in Orlando, Soweto. Its role was to begin rebuilding the new national youth organisation, which would "bring in comrades from different strands; from Sayco and the ANC Youth Section, from prison, the underground and the mass democratic movement in general."37 It was felt by all that "the ANCYL must be broader than the ANC Youth Section and Sayco. It must have thousands of ordinary young people, including those who have not been members of Sayco, Sansco [South African National Students Congress], Nusas [National Union of South African Students], or Cosas."38

The organised youth of Diepkloof took the directive from the new national structure and began to launch a local branch of the ANCYL. The provisional ANCYL branch of Diepkloof was launched on February 24, 1991. According to one informant, there were 101 card-carrying members of the ANCYL and approximately 200 youth who were not yet members, were present at the launch. About forty of them were women. A major proportion were school-going, despite the fact that the school-goers still had their own organisation, Cosas.

During the subsequent months, Cosas continued to take up clearly defined – though poorly planned and carried out – school-based struggles in Diepkloof. But, the newly formed ANCYL differed from the old Soyco branch in that it never developed a clear programme of action. It tended to be more reactive in the campaigns it took up, for example, when the municipality decided to increase rents in mid-1991, it campaigned for a renewed rent boycott.

The Youth League branch, like the ANC more generally, embarked on an organising drive to get as many signed up members as possible. Peter Mokaba, as chairperson of the Provisional National Youth Committee, defined the ANCYL's main task:

The central task, therefore, is to build, strengthen and root the ANC within the broadest possible section of our youth … . The fundamental litmus test of our own work and progress is how many youth do we manage to bring into and under the guidance of the ANC.39

But without a clear programme of action, the ANCYL branch found it difficult to maintain or develop a consistent membership base. Lodge, writing of the ANC more broadly, states that "… quite apart from any problems arising from the speed with which branches were assembled, there was a deeper difficulty arising from the lack of vision of what the branches should actually do once they existed".40 This problem seems not to have decreased as the nineties proceeded.

Youth Joining, Youth Leaving

After the unbanning of the ANC and other political organisations, there was great interest among youth in Diepkloof in joining the new youth structures. Many of the youth of Soyco thought it was logical to take up membership in the new youth organisation:

I joined the ANCYL because I used to be participating under Sayco and then Sayco was phased out then there were no alternatives but to join ANCYL and to build up youth organisations again. – Lumkile

The leadership of both Cosas and the ANCYL remained very young, with only three working youth active in the Diepkloof branch of the Youth League. After attending my first Youth League meeting in Diepkloof, I wrote the following abstract in my diary:

(24-06-1991) The meeting was made up of about forty youth. It was clear to me that very few of the youth present were over the age of sixteen or so. In fact, I was shocked to see that some of the youth present seemed no older than about eleven.

A large, newly politicised group of youth, many of whom had never actively participated in politics in any way before, took up membership in the Diepkloof branch of the ANCYL and in Cosas. There were a number of reasons for this.

Firstly, free political activity was now possible – participation no longer meant the risk of detention, arrest, harassment, and death:

I think youth have joined because repression is no more high and all that. They don't feel so afraid like they used to. – Namedi

Secondly, like the activist youth of the eighties, the "new wave" was concerned about the well-being of their "people", and with bringing about justice. The ANC was still seen by the majority of Diepkloof youth as morally outstanding:

The organisation is trying to build the youth in terms of demands of youth and in terms of building the community. Also, the organisation discourage them from drugs and drinking and show them the situation we are facing and how to overcome it. So, that determination do something good for the masses, that's what my participation is for. – Sipho

Thirdly, some of the activists of the "new wave" of youth joined because "they thought they would gain popularity and status", according to Namedi. This led many experienced activists to be rather sceptical of the "new wave", who were inexperienced and politically naïve. The old guard believed the "new wave" had joined for the wrong reasons and that this in turn could lead to decreased organisational control and discipline:

The new youth who have joined still need to be taught about struggle and how to make conscious decisions. However, serious comrades are in the minority. There are many youth who have membership cards and no understanding. – Namedi

Fourthly, youth who were still at school joined organisations in the hope of improving conditions in the schools. Cosas, in particular, continued to provide hope for students desperate for change:

I joined Cosas in July 1991. I have to join Cosas to demand windows at school and to repair school and demand many books. I joined Cosas so I will have a history that I was fighting for the people at school. Those that don't go to meetings have many problems they cannot solve. – Themba

Finally, one local incident provided a considerable impetus for youth to join organisations in Diepkloof – the assassination of Vuyani Mabaxa, probably the most respected and politically astute youth leader in Diepkloof, in October 1991. His death came as a shock to the Diepkloof community and was perceived as a major loss to both the youth organisations and to the community at large. Youth who lived near Vuyani's home, although not previously politically active, had seen the work he had done in the community. They were appalled by his death and felt a need to do something about it. All they could do was to contribute to "Vuyani's struggle" by participating in the organisations he had largely been responsible for building in the township. A number of politically inexperienced youth, notably female, joined both Cosas and the ANCYL after his death. The fact that Vuyani was killed at a time when peaceful negotiations were supposedly takeing place, angered the youth of Diepkloof deeply:

I joined Cosas last year after comrade Vuyani died. I joined Cosas because I then see how black people are suffering. I didn't join before because I didn't understand about organisation and I was scared. But then when Vuyani died I say no man, but this is a problem – I am going to join the organisation. Vuyani stayed in my street. I never talk to him, just to say hello, hello. – Thandi

I joined the organisation after the death of comrade Vuyani because the police have killed him like a dog and I knew he was a very good comrade. – Lindi

But, while many "new" youth were joining youth organisations, a large percentage of older youth activists seem to have dropped out after the unbannings. These included some of the key leaders of the eighties in Diepkloof, a large percentage of whom were from the "1985 detachment". Many of them felt they no longer had a clear role in struggle with the suspension of armed struggle and peoples' war. More importantly, however, they perceived the process of negotiation as happening only at the level of national leadership, with no consultation with membership at a local level:

The unbanning of the ANC and its approach to armed struggle and the lack of consultation, alienated old activists. Activists became demoralised. These people had been committed to the seizure of power. The transition to the ANC had an effect on activists trained in a particular political climate.41

Some felt the ANC had not acknowledged, and at times had even undermined the role youth had played in the eighties. One of the respondents, Bheki, stated that "when Mandela came out of jail, he didn't even thank us". Still others who had put their lives at risk for the liberation movement, felt a need to take care of themselves and take a break from activism.

The negotiations process left many older youths uncertain about how to contribute to political change. Ashwell Zwane, a member of the Alexandra Youth Congress since the eighties, asked:

What is the role of youth now? Even the ANCYL at a national level has not defined a role for us. What do we do in terms of Codesa? If we come together at meetings, it is to do what? The role of the youth has changed because we were in the forefront before and this has changed and we are in the back seat. Since the 1991 conference nothing has been done to address this problem. It was a death conference.42

In the eighties, because of the dangerous conditions under which youth organised, there had been tight control over membership of these organisations. Leaders had to be vigilant and try to ensure that members would not bring danger to other activists or to the organisation. Activist youth had to be politically informed; to be seen as trustworthy; and to prove their preparedness to take up organisational tasks.

However, in the "new era", youth who were neither known nor politically literate joined youth organisations:

In the eighties, people were known and were performing tasks. Now the rate of activists is decreasing. Leaders don't know members anymore. This causes a problem of people not being properly organised. Now people need to be educated properly and this is not happening. This is the responsibility of leadership who are not playing their role. – Thami

Many of these youth, however, did remain concerned with acting in a "comradely" manner and "doing the right thing", even if they lacked political and organisational know-how. They were less of a danger than another group that seemed to be increasing within youth organisations in the early nineties – the comtstotsis – youth who claimed membership of organisations, and hence certain legitimacy; but who in fact were involved in unambiguously criminal activities, or in random "political" activities of dubious pedigree.

The ANCYL at a national level identified this as a serious problem in many townships. In one of its publications, it reported that:

In Sebokeng, near Vereeniging, the local ANC branch is torn by dissension as former "comrades" form themselves into a criminal gang. In Khutsong, near Carltonville, an ANC-aligned group has split into a pair of warring gangs.43

In Phola Park on the East Rand, the comtsotsis seemed to have taken over the ANC structures, causing havoc and fear among residents of the squatter camp; criminals masquerading as activists were taking over power from previously "legitimate" political leadership by force. In April 1992, "… 16 heavily armed men hijacked a community meeting and ejected committee members from their office at gunpoint claiming to be members of Umkhonto we Sizwe …".44

Added to the problem of the comtsotsis, was the issue of weapons. In Soweto generally, a large percentage of the comrades and comtstotsis had guns. In Meadowlands and Killarney in Soweto, youth were reported to be making their own guns, called the "qwash", to protect the community against attacks from Inkatha. "The name qwash! comes from the sound the wooden firearms make when the bullet goes off."45 The extent of gun ownership in Diepkloof in the early nineties was difficult to assess because it was not openly discussed by the youth, even amongst themselves; but undoubtedly young comrades acquired guns through a number of means. Most commonly, Diepkloof youth disarmed police after ambushing them:

There is a big problem of comrades keeping guns. But this problem is a national problem, you see, because everyday comrades are disarming the police, you see. And they are keeping the guns for themselves. It's not like at first when things were bad you had to go to Orlando to consult with other people to give us guns. And it's true that many of these guns have been misused by our comrades, you see, harassing the community with these same guns and not using them simply for defense. – Thabo

Comrade youth also watched the houses of whites in the suburbs and stole guns when no-one was at home. There were attempts in this period, largely unsuccessful, by activists in youth organisations in Diepkloof to deal with the problem of the comtsotsis and the ownership of guns. But some youth did not perceive gun possession as problematic. In a sense, they perceived guns as a "resource" needed by youth organisations.

Gun ownership was rooted in the eighties. In Oliver Tambo's opening speech at the Kabwe Conference, which seems to have been widely distributed amongst youth in Diepkloof, youth were encouraged to disarm police and steal guns from white homes:

Pretoria has carried out its murderous plans to extremes. We must now respond to the reactionary violence of the enemy with our own revolutionary violence. The weapons are there in white houses. Each white house has a gun or two hidden to use against us. Our mothers work in their kitchens. We work in their gardens. We must deliberately go out and look for these weapons in these houses. It is a matter of life and death to find these weapons to use against the enemy … . The lone policeman must be made a target. He must be destroyed so we can get his weapon … . We must learn to lay ambushes for the armoured personnel carriers and police cars that patrol the locations.46

Rhetoric such as that encapsulated in Tambo's speech became part of the discourse used by youth in justifying their involvement in political violence.

However, youth who owned guns in the eighties remained silent; they could be brought to order if gun ownership was spoken about loosely, or if guns were used "inappropriately" – all part and parcel of the disciplined manner in which youth activists were expected to conduct themselves. The lack of leadership control in the nineties led to the loss of this direction. In May 1992, Rapu Malekane, a member of the national executive of the ANCYL stated that:

In the eighties if you had a gun, you didn't tell anyone. Now its the fashion … . Whereas thugs of the past could be disciplined by organisations, those of today are armed, dangerous and untouchable.47

Youth organisations in the early nineties were hence characterised by a membership that was largely new and politically naïive. They were also plagued by an upsurge of youth who were engaged in "unsavoury" activities. These problems were compounded by increased gun ownership, and indiscretion in the use of weapons.

Ideological Patterns within Youth Organisations

While youth were encouraged by the ANC to organise themselves into the ANCYL in the early nineties, their role was no longer seen as the central force for change. Ungovernability was largely frowned upon by the ANC leadership, and youth were asked to support the negotiations process and back up the demands of the ANC with "mass action" For comrade and activist youth who had for the previous six years been waging a struggle to bring the apartheid state to its knees, this was not an easy pill to swallow.

This new mode of politics seems to have given rise to a variety of responses from organised youth in Diepkloof. While members supported the ANC, they did not all support its strategies or decisions equally. Four different "ideological" groupings seemed to have emerged:

  • Youth activists, particularly the "old guard" from the eighties, who, while they may have disagreed with some of the decisions taken by the national executive committee, felt morally bound to support the ANC and publicly did all they could to strengthen support for its decisions;

  • Those youth, primarily the "new wave", who supported the decisions of the ANC more uncritically, perhaps because they had never been part of the eighties resistance politics;

  • A large grouping of youth, consisting of a combination of the "old guard" and the "new wave", who felt frustrated at the decisions and strategies of the ANC, and stated their opinions openly; and

  • The comtsotsis within the organisation, who while angered at the apartheid system, were more concerned with the personal gains they could make through criminal activities, than in developing any ideological orientation.

The ideological cohesion that was present in youth organisations in the eighties – partly as a result of the ideological force of the UDF and the common goal of attaining "peoples' power" – weakened significantly in the early nineties. This perhaps reflected the lack of ideological cohesion in the ANC generally,48 and was compounded by the lack of consultation between national, regional and local structures about decision making. Many local youth complained that no guidance was been given by national and regional leaders of youth organisations.

While ideological cohesion declined, much of the "repertoire" of the Charterist movement of the eighties was carried into the nineties. A large proportion of organised youth interviewed in Diepkloof continued to make use of this rhetoric in the early nineties, and this formed part of the legitimating discourse around political violence:

We need to make it impossible for people who are participating in institutions of government to govern this country. So I mean, by destroying the institutions which facilitate the government, that will in a way destabilise part of the government itself, and eventually we will attain what we want. – Musi

It is not surprising that rhetoric of this kind continued to pervade youth organisations. For youth in Diepkloof, conditions either remained unchanged or worsened after the unbannings, particularly in relation to employment, education and violence. Hence, on the face of things, the same strategies that were used in the eighties, seemed to many youth to be appropriate in the early nineties. However, the formal code of conduct of the broader ANC tradition would not allow for this. Consequently, disunity emerged amongst youth comrades regarding appropriate strategies and tactics in the early nineties.

Internal Processes, Leadership and Organisational Culture

Thus the majority of those in youth organisations felt alienated from the decision making process of the ANC and powerless in trying to change decisions that had already been made. I was made very aware of this when attending a general meeting of the Diepkloof Youth League on September 3, 1991. It took place within days of signing the Peace Accord, which in theory should have been of major significance to youth. However, the agenda of the meeting consisted of the following items: apologies, minutes of the last meeting; report from the executive meeting; and general. On returning home from the meeting, I wrote the following in my research diary:

I found the agenda very disturbing. Not only was it entirely bureaucratic, but it made no mention of certain current and pertinent issues. I raised the fact that the Peace Accord was to be signed the following week and asked whether this should not at least be discussed. While some youth agreed that it was an important issue, the overall decision taken by the meeting was that the accord was going to be signed anyway, so why bother to talk about it.

These youth felt so completely powerless to affect broader political processes. They were adamant that anything they had to contribute on a local level would be disregarded by higher levels of authority. Added to this, or perhaps underlying, the lack of ideological cohesion, and the inadequate responses of organisations to important issues, was the absence of seasoned activists. Many of the "old guard" leaders of the eighties seemed to have chosen not to be centrally involved in youth politics after the unbannings. The majority of these youth (not unlike the returned exiles) were by the early nineties unemployed and felt resentful toward the ANC for neglecting the needs of youth who had given many years of their lives to activism:

Most of the old leadership are frustrated and are unemployed and the ANC has not taken care of them. They have to spend most of their time trying to get funds for themselves. – Namedi

This "finding funds for themselves" seems to have meant becoming involved in gangster activities, for some of the eighties activists. At least three high profile members of the "old guard" were accused by members of the community of being involved in gang activities in the early nineties, including robbery, rape and even murder. This phenomenon is hardly surprising considering that the majority of youth activists emerged from the eighties having undergone extremely traumatic experiences, with poor school qualifications, and almost no prospects of a job.

New youth leaders emerged who were perceived by past leaders as poorly trained, and without the ability to organise township youth effectively; this in turn gave rise to a weakening of youth organisations generally. The loss of select leadership of the eighties gave rise to a nostalgic longing for the leadership of old by both youth and adults in the township. Isaac Magase, longstanding chairperson of the Diepkloof civic, reflected this sentiment:

It is true that I am missing the calibre of youth of Vuyani and Neil Thobajane … I have missed them a lot. I used to work with them a lot in the civic. It seems consistent leadership is not there. The new leadership is not known.

Consequently, the new leadership was less able to give direction to their organisations, or to develop adequate programmes of action:

Youth don't see why they should go to meetings and be part of struggle. Leadership should be doing something on the ground and giving direction. They just go to meetings and give report backs. Before we had a programme of action and could give direction. – Namedi

In the eighties, youth organisations had developed well-planned campaigns, related to the concerns of ordinary people. In the early nineties, however, the general feeling of alienation and purposelessness meant that youth organisations in Diepkloof failed to develop and carry out a clear programme and well-organised campaigns. Attempts were made by the ANCYL and Cosas to set up anti-crime campaigns, clean-up campaigns, and campaigns to service unemployed youth, such as the establishment of co-operatives:

Well, in Diepkloof youth now we are trying to take up crime and such things and making youth to participate in our structures. We are trying by all means to stop the crime which is very high in Diepkloof. We need to work together in terms of the question of unemployment of which most of our youth are facing this problem. What we are doing is not enough in terms of just organising the people. – Sipho

However, it does not seem that any of these well-meant campaigns took off. Because the new leaders lacked foresight, and were not able to plan adequately, newly recruited youth were no longer given "political education": This led to further problems in attempting to develop programmes of action:

In the nineties, youth flocked into organisations. We did not have to go out and organise. A political education programme was lacking … . Some people in leadership positions lack a clear vision of beyond and analysis. Political education is not taken seriously. Only a few youth today are committed, others have a basic understanding but lack the determination to learn and be creative.49

The increased involvement of youth activists in acts of thuggery led to a general disenchantedment among community members, both young and old, with the comrades. Thandeka said of the "new comrades":

These new comrades now they are not behaving in a right way like before. They are just going around hitting people for no good reason and telling people how to behave or they will beat them. So adults are not liking these things. Even me, I am a member of the ANCYL but I will not attend meetings until such things stop to happen.

In some schools in Diepkloof, the lack of strong leadership and the increasing undisciplined activities of Cosas members seemed to have given rise to deteriorating relationships between Cosas members and teachers. As Thami put it:

There are some students who have bad relationships with the teachers. Like members of Cosas. Others have to fight with the teachers and principals. When they talk with him, they just do the way they like. So this is not the procedure of Cosas.

Thami was concerned with what he believed to be a major problem confronting Cosas members such as himself. Despite the fact that Cosas had a code of conduct and set of procedures that stipulated how grievances should be taken up, there were members of Cosas who disregarded these and openly clashed with teachers and principals. These Cosas members, Thami believed were unrestrained.

Furthermore, the once harmonious relationship between the civic and youth organisations also seems to have deteriorated in Diepkloof in the early nineties. According to informants, the civic was "always condemning" the behaviour of the youth; it tended to report back on decisions already taken, rather than consult with its constituents before decisions were concluded. It would appear that the youth perceived the civic to be engaged in "sell-out" politics; while members of the civic were in turn concerned about the continuation of violent activities by youth in Diepkloof, which they deemed to be inappropriate at a time of negotiations. The tensions that were largely latent between the civic and the youth in the eighties, seems to have come to the fore in the early nineties.

Finally, in early 1993, the ANC was for the most part, non-functional in Diepkloof. This was problematic, since while the ANCYL had autonomy within the ANC, it should have been working closely with the ANC as its "mother body", helping it to direct it at all levels of organisation. The malfunctioning of the ANC in Diepkloof, together with the deteriorating relations with the civic and the breakdown of street committees, meant that youth organisations were working largely on their own, with no real support or guidance from older community leaders.

Retaining the "Comrade Identity"

Despite the poor level of organisation and many other problems that existed in youth organisations by 1993, the ANCYL and Cosas continued to play an important role for youth in the township. Their capacity to reflect and determine certain themes of youth identity, for example, remained strong.

Being a comrade in the early nineties had very similar meanings to what it meant to be a comrade in the eighties. "Comradeness" still embodied a greater perceived "morality" than, for example, the identity of people "who harass the community". The comrades perceived themselves as helping to develop a better future for South Africa and denied vociferously that they were now irrelevant:

The comrades are not a lost generation. If we were a lost generation, we wouldn't be involved in structures that are so constructive. We would be selling dagga, stealing cars, you know. We wouldn't care about the future. Why involve ourselves in structures that do care about the future when we don't care about the future, you see? – Lumkile

Those people who are raping, murdering and what, those people I don't like them because they are harassing our community. It is a problem. Cosas don't allow such things. – Jabu

Being a comrade continued to mean "doing the right thing" and being disciplined. As in the eighties, being disciplined meant following a code of conduct set out by youth organisations:

In organisation we must follow the rules. We have to have a code of conduct. So, for example,you must develop a relationship with the teacher and sit down and negotiate – not just to do what you want. Then they will understand. – Jabu

Members of youth organisations were expected at all times to portray a positive image of their organisations. Alcohol and drugs were still seen as leading to problematic behaviour that could lead the organisation into disrepute. It was particularly unacceptable for activists to be carrying out political tasks when they were not completely sober. Members of youth organisations could be severely disciplined for contravening the code of conduct.

The claimed "morality" of the comrades, and their attempts to fight "evil", especially in the form of those who harm the community, meant that some organised youth were still able to command respect from more senior members of the Diepkloof community in the early nineties. These youth were referred to as "authentic comrades" – such as Vuyani – by some older members of the community, who included social workers, teachers and even local councillors, and they represented those youth comrades who showed concern for the community and who were not involved in gang activities. In fact, they represented a positive alternative to gangsterism for township youth. These activist youth were perceived as an organised grouping with a sense of responsibility; they could be reasoned with:

Those youth who don't attend youth meetings are part of gangs. Youth in political organisations, you can reason with. They give you time to discuss … . You can reason with the ANCYL. The problem is when they start to mix with the criminal youth.50

Youth organisations in Diepkloof were seen as important because of their apparent capacity for positive influence over the youth:

The organisations have influence over the youth. If they could preach the CODESA gospel, the youth would go along with it.51

Despite the fact that there were members of the community who were angered by the thuggish, spontaneous, and unconstructive behaviour of some of the comrades, it is significant that a positive attitude remained in the minds of some. As a Nicro social worker put it:

The older people in the community appreciate youth in organisation. They feel these youth make things change. This is different from gang youth who they see as destroying the community. The political youth try to avoid chaos because they say this is tarnishing their image.52

It is unclear to what extent these positive views reflected the general feeling of the Diepkloof community, or how these perceptions would change depending on the activities of the youth – particularly in the light of the growing comtsotsi phenomenon; the weakening of leadership; and their inability to control their membership and constituency. These positive conceptions of youth activists were probably rooted in older people's experience of activist youth in the eighties, and may well fade rapidly as the nineties progress.


What we have witnessed in Diepkloof in the early nineties can be seen as a decline – though not termination – of the Charterist youth movement, as was the case of social movements in Latin America with the move away form authoritarian rule.53 The stress that the political process model places on external opportunity structures and state formations is crucial in understanding this.54

The political processes of the early nineties left the youth without a clear sense of purpose and with strong feelings of alienation from mechanisms of decision-making. Consequently, as Tilly55 suggests, changes in politics in the broader arena reshaped the inner structures and workings of social movement organisations. It also led to changing ideas and self-identity of this social movement. In the early nineties, very few real political opportunities seemed to exist for youth to play a meaningful role in the transition period owing to the ANC's movement away from revolutionary politics. This meant that youth were not entirely convinced by its new stance on negotiations, and perceived themselves as less central to processes of transformation; this in turn led to ideological fragmentation and divergent understandings of appropriate strategies and tactics, and suspicion of more senior leaders. This supports the point made by political process theorists of social movements, such as Tilly, that the nature and effectiveness of social movements is largely dependent on the "political opportunities" that exist and external processes of agenda setting. Furthermore, the ideological fragmentation of organised youth in Diepkloof raises questions about the adequacy of using the "self-analysis"56 of participants in understanding the identity of social movements.

Youth organisations in the early nineties were also confronted with numerous internal problems, a lack of seasoned leadership who were able to give direction to membership. This had dire consequences since social movements organisations are often unstable and non-routinised, and consequently the success or failure of a social movement is reliant on the qualities and commitment of its leaders.

There was also a lack of any systematic programme of action or political education processes resulting in a high turnover in membership, and a steady decline in committed youth participating in organisations. Members of youth organisations largely perceived their involvement as important for creating a better future of the "masses of South Africa". However, there was a growing number of organised youth who were drawn into criminal activities – a problem that was magnified by the high level of possession of weapons.

While some of these problems have their roots in organisations of the eighties, others seem inherent to mass-based urban social movements.57 As the resource mobilisation approach point out, it is very difficult for urban social movements to exert control over and maintain their membership and beneficiaries.58

Despite all the problems of youth organisations in the early nineties in Diepkloof, the majority of youth comrades continued to see themselves as the "bearers of morality" in the township with an obligation to defend the community and rid it of "evil" influences. In a sense, the "moral" discourse of the youth remained while their "political" discourse became less coherent, as did the ideological cohesion of the ANC itself. In fact, it could be argued that the comrade identity of youth participants in the Charterist social movement, was in fact in some cases discordant with the new identity the ANC developed nationally in the early nineties as conveyed by its leadership and in public statements. This incongruity again raises questions as to whether researchers can entirely rely on the self-analysis of participants in understanding the identity of social movements.

Finally, in April 1994, South Africa succeeded in carrying out its first democratic election in which the ANC achieved a national majority of 62%. This election itself, and its results, are to a great extent the fruit of the struggles of the Charterist youth movement. However, the new South African government, headed by Nelson Mandela, will have major consequences for the Charterist movement at large. Will the ANC and its alliance organisations decline or continue to have an impact in the civil struggles it carries out? What will the new role of this social movement be? Who will be the leadership figures of this social movement? These are all important questions for the Charterist (and other) youth in the future as they continue to take up struggles in the interest of the youth sector of the South African population.

Prior to the elections, the ANCYL, after consultation with other youth movements, proposed that a Youth Ministry be created59 as a means for ensuring that the interest of South African youth become an intergral part of any reconstruction process in the country. This proposal was rejected by the National Executive of the ANC, and consequently, no youth ministry has been established. Youth representatives and commissions will therefore be present in all structures and departments of government, particularly at a provincial and national level. However, for these representatives to have any clout in a new government, a strong social movement of youth is necessary. Already a National Youth Development Council has began to be formed consisting of all youth organisations in the country. This means that youth organisations will have to develop strong leadership; programmes of action; and an accountable and well versed social base. The prospect of developing such structures is daunting if the state of Charterist youth organisations in Diepkloof in the early nineties is anything to go by. If those concerned with the development of youth are to help forward this process, emphasis needs to be placed on the advancement of youth leaders, and the facilitation of organisational development within these structures.

In conclusion, the future development of youth structures based on historical research such as this paper reveals does not bode well. Youth organisations by the early nineties were in a state of disarray and the general public seems to have perceived youth as "rebels without a cause". Youth, however, are not only the future of our society, but also the majority of our population. Furthermore, they have many real bases for discontent. Youth struggles need to continue, but this needs to be done in a constructive, organised, and contemplated manner.


1 This research was carried out through participant observation and intensive interviews. The names used in the text are fictitous, except where permission was received from key informants to use their real names.

2 This designates the Pretoria, Witwatersrand, Vereeniging region in South Africa.

3 Cited in Frontline, October 1985.

4 Interview with Caiphus Mothibe, November 1992.

5 Seekings, J. "Political Mobilisation in the Black Townships of the Transvaal." In State, Resistance and Change in South Africa, ed. P. Frankel et al. Pretoria: Sigma Press, 1988.

6 Lebelo, M. "Sophiatown Removals: Relocation and Political Quuiescence." Honours dissertation, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 1988.

7 Seekings, J. "Quiescence and the Transition to Confrontation: South African Townships, 1978-1984." Ph. D thesis, Oxford University, 1990, p. 145.

8 According to Seekings in "Quiescence and the Transition to Confrontation", this was not "funny" at all, but rather very typical of youth politics in the early eighties.

9 Seekings, in "Quiescence and the Transition to Confrontation", argues that social welfare campaigns taken up by civics helped to broaden the support base of these structures during the eighties.

10 Interview with Mogamotsi Mogadire, 1992. Thobajane was key youth activist in Diepkloof in the eighties and was elected onto the national executive of Nehawu in 1992.

11 Soyco was formed in 1982. The Diepkloof youth formed a branch of Soyco. It was one of the many youth congresses that began to mushroom throughout the country in the eighties. The majority of these youth congresses (though not all) were affiliated to the United Democratic Front. In 1987, Sayco (South African Youth Congress) launched as a national federal umbrella structure of the youth congresses. Sayco subsequently became the largest affiliate of the UDF and was viewed by many as forwarding the liberation movement in South Africa.

12 Interview with Mogamotsi Mogadire, 1992. Mogadire is known in Diepkloof as the person who spearheaded youth structures in the township. He was elected onto the national executive structure of the ANC Youth League in 1991.

13 Interview with Mogamotsi Mogadire.

14 See Swilling, M. "The United Democratic Front and Township Revolt." In Popular Struggles in South Africa, ed. W. Cobbett and R. Cohen. London: James Curry, 1988.

15 See Cock, J. Colonels and Cadres: War and Gender in South Africa. Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1998.

16 Swilling, "The United Democratic Front and Township Revolt," p. 103.

17 Hyslop, J. "School Student Movements and State Education Policy: 1972-1987." In Popular Struggles in South Africa, ed. W. Cobbett and R. Cohen. London: James Curry, 1988, p. 194.

18 Johnson, S. "'The Soldiers of Luthuli': Youth in the Politics of Resistance in South Africa." In No Turning Back, ed. S. Johnson. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.

19 Isizwe 1. no. 2, (September 1986).

20 Swilling, M. "The United Democratic Front and Township Revolt". P. 106.

21 See Johnson, "The Soldiers of Luthuli".

22 Interview with Neil Thobajani.

23 Interview with Neil Thobajane.

24 Lodge, T. "The United Democratic Front: Leadership and Ideology": African Studies Institute seminar paper, University of the Witwatersrand, August 1987, p. 1.

25 ibid., p. 1.

26 Interview with Mogamotsi Mogadire.

27 For details of some of these incidents see The Star, 19-01-93

28 This was the result of a call by Cosas for a go-slow over examination fees and a strike called by the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) over poor salaries and the retrenchment of fellow teachers. See The Weekly Mail, 05-03-93.

29 See Saul, J. "The ANC put to the Test." New Left Review 188, (1991).

30 ibid.

31 Ginwala, F. "Into and out of Codesa Negotiations: The view from the ANC." In Peace, Politics and Violence in South Africa, ed. N. Etherington. London: Hans Zell Press, 1992, p. 9.

32 Reported in The Star, 18-10-1992.

33 See Lodge, T. "The African National Congress Comes Home." African Studies Institute seminar paper, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, June 1992.

34 See Community Agency for Social Enquiry (CASE) and Human Rights Committee (HRC) eds. "The Reef Violence: Tribal War or Total Strategy." Unpublished Report, March 1992.

35 This took place at Sayco's annual congress held in Nelspruit.

36 The ANCYL was banned along with the ANC in the sixties, and was renamed the ANC Youth Section in exile.

37 Chairperson's report, national conference of the ANC Youth League, December, 1991.

38 Cited in Mayibuye, July 1990.

39 Chairperson's report, national conference of the ANCYL, December, 1991.

40 Lodge, "The African National Congress Comes Home," p. 13.

41 Interview with Mogamotsi Mogadire.

42 Interview with Ashwell Zwane, February 1993.

43 ANCYL Bulletin, February, 1991.

44 The Weekly Mail, 10-04-1992.

45 Sowetan, 07-05-1992.

46 A copy of a tape of Tambo's speech was given to me by one of the youth in Diepkloof in 1992. He stated that he had followed the tape and had stolen a gun from a "white house". He later showed me the gun he had stolen. This tape seems to have circulated informally amongst activists in Diepkloof.

47 Cited in The Weekly Mail, 25-09-1992.

48 There was disagreement within the ANC leadership as to the nature of the negotiation process, and to what extent settlements should be made with the National Party. Related to this, there was also disagreement as to what tactics should be used by the ANC – such as the use of mass action to put pressure on the government. Consequently, certain more hard-lined members of the ANC leadreship came to be known as the "hawks", while more conciliatory members came to be known as the "doves".

49 Interview with Neil Thobajane.

50 Interview with Councillor A, Diepkloof City Council.

51 Interview with Councillor B, Diepmeadow City Council.

52 Interview with Mr Tloteng, a senior social worker at the National Institute for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of Offenders (NICRO).

53 See Mainwaring, S. and Viola, E. "New Social Movements, Political Culture, and Democracy: Brazil and Argentine in the 1980s." Telos, no. 61 (1984).

See also Joppke, C. "Social Movements During Cycles of Issue Attention: The decline of the anti-nuclear energy movements in Germany and the USA." British Journal of Sociology, 42, no. 1 (1991).

54 See Cohen, J. "Strategies or Identity: New Theoretical Paradigms and Contemporary Social Movements." Social Research 52, no. 4 (1985).

See Gamson, W. "Introduction." In Social Movements in an Organisational Society.Zald, M. & McCarthy, J. eds. Oxford: Transition Books, 1987.

See McAdam, D. Political Processes and the Development of Insurgency. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.

55 Tilly, C. From Mobilisation to Revolution. New York: Random House, 1978.

56 See Sitas, A. "The Making of the Comrades' Movement in Natal, 1985-1991." Journal of Southern African Studies 18, no. 3 (1992).

57 See Morris, A. "The Complexities of Sustained Urban Struggle: The Case of Oukasie." South African Sociological Review 2, no. 2 (1990).

58 See Zald, M., & Garner, R. "Social Movement Organisation: Growth, Decay and Change." In Social Movements in an Organisational Society, eds. Zald, M & McCarthy, J. Oxford: Transaction Books, 1987.

59 See "A National Youth Policy for South Africa", Draft paper for discussion, 12 April 1994.


Bundy, C. "Street Sociology and Pavement Politics: Aspects of Youth and Student Resistance in Cape Town, 1985." Journal of Southern African Studies 13, no. 3 (1987).

Carter, C. "Community and Conflict: The Alexandra Rebellion of 1986." Journal of Southern African Studies 18, no. 1 (1992).

Carter, C. "'We are the Progressives': Alexandra Youth Congress Activists and the Freedom Charter, 1983-85." Journal of Southern African Studies 17, no. 2 (1991).

Cock, J. Colonels and Cadres: War and Gender in South Africa. Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Community Agency for Social Enquiry (CASE) and Human Rights Committee (HRC), eds. "The Reef Violence: Tribal War or Total Strategy." Unpublished report, March 1992.

Chaskalson, M., and J. Seekings. "The Challenge: From Protest to People's Power." In Political Conflict in South Africa – Data Trends, Natal: Indicator SA, Dec 1988.

Cohen, J. "Strategies or Identity: New Theoretical Paradigms and Contemporary Social Movements." Social Research 52, no. 4 (1985).

Eder, K. "The 'New Social Movements': Moral Crusades, Political Pressure Groups, or Social Movements?" Social Research 52, no. 4 (1985).

Foley, M. "Organising Ideology and Moral Suassion: Political Discourse and Action in a Mexican Town." Comparative Studies in Society and History 32, (1990).

Gamson, W. "Introduction." In Social Movements in an Organisational Society, M. Zald and J. McCarthy. Oxford: Transaction Books, 1987.

Ginwala, F. "Into and Out of Codesa Negotiations: The View from the ANC." In Peace, Politics and Violence in the New South Africa, ed. N. Etherington. London: Hans Zell Publishers, 1992.

Goldstone, J. "Ideology, Cultural Frameworks, and the Process of Revolution." Theory and Society 20, 405-453 (1991).

Grest, J. "The Crisis of Local Government in South Africa." In State, Resistance and Change in South Africa, ed. P. Frankel et al. Pretoria: Signal Press, 1988.

Hunt, L. "Charles Tilly's Collective Action." In Vision and Method in Historical Sociology, ed. T.Skocpol. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Hyslop, J. "School Student Movements and State Education Policy: 1972-87." In Popular Struggles in South Africa, eds. W. Cobbet and R. Cohen. London: James Curry, 1988.

Hyslop, J. "A Destruction Coming In: Bantu Education as Response to Social Crisis." Unpublished paper, 1990.

Hyslop, J. "State Education Policy and the Social Reproduction of the Urban African Working Class: The Case of the Southern Transvaal." Journal of Southern African Studies 14, no. 3 (1988).

Hyslop, J. "Schools, Unemployment and Youth: Origens and Significance of Student and Youth Movement." In Education: From Poverty to Liberty, eds. B. Nasson and J. Samuels. Cape Town: Credo Press, 1990.

Johnson, S. "'The Soldiers of Luthuli': Youth in the Politics of Resistance in South Africa." In No Turning Back, ed. S. Johnson. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.

Joppke, C. "Social Movements During Cycles of Issue Attention: The Decline of the Anti-Nuclear Energy Movements in Germany and the USA." British Journal of Sociology42, no. 1 (1991).

Lebelo, M. "Sophiatown Removals: Relocation and Political Quiescence." Honours Dissertation, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 1988.

Lodge, T. Black Politics in South Africa Since 1945. Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1985.

Lodge, T. "The United Democratic Front: Leadership and Ideology." African Studies Institute seminar paper, University of the Witwatersrand, August 1987.

Lodge, T. "The Rise of the UDF." In UPDATE South Africa: Time Running Out: All Here and Now: Black Politics in South Africa in the 1980s, eds. T. Lodge and B. Nasson. Johannesburg: David Phillip, 1991.

Lodge, T. "Intoduction: Reform, Recession and Resistance" In UPDATE South Africa: Time Running Out: All Here and Now: Black Politics in South Africa in the 1980s, eds. T. Lodge and B. Nasson. Johannesburg: David Phillip, 1991.

Lodge, T. "The African National Congress Comes Home." African Studies Institute seminar paper, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, June 1992.

Lowe, S. Urban Social Movements: The City After Castells. London: MacMillan Press, 1986.

Mainwaring. S and E. Viola. "New Social Movements, Political Culture, and Democracy: Brazil and Argentine in the 1980s." Telos, no. 61 (1984).

McAdam, D. Political Process and the Development of Insurgency. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.

Morris, A. "The Complexities of Sustained Urban Struggle: The Case of Oukasie." South African Sociological Review 2, no. 2 (1990).

Olofsson, G. "After the Working Class Movement? An Essay on What's New and What's Social in the New Social Movements." Acta Sociologica 31, no. 1 (1988).

Offe, C. "New Social Movements: Challenging the Boundaries of Institutional Politics." Social Research 52, no. 4 (1985).

Phillips, I. "The Opposition: After Kabwe and the Emergency: Lessons from the 1980s." In Political Conflict in South Africa -Data Trends, Natal: Indicator SA, Dec 1988.

Saul, J. "The ANC Put to the Test." New Left Review 188, (1991)

Scott, A. Ideology and the New Social Movements. London: Unwin Hyman, 1990.

Seekings, J. Heroes or Villains: Youth Politics in the 1980s. Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1993.

Seekings, J. "Quiescence and the Transition to Confrontation: South African Townships, 1978-1984." Ph.D thesis, Oxford University, 1990.

Seekings, J. "'Trailing Behind the Masses': The United Democratic Front and Township Poltics in Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vaal Region, 1983-84." Journal of Southern African Studies 18, no. 1 (1992).

Seekings, J. "Political Mobilisation in the Black Townships of the Transvaal." In State, Resistance and Change in South Africa, eds. P. Frankel et al. Pretoria: Sigma Press, 1988.

Sitas, A. "The Making of the 'Comrades' Movement in Natal, 1985-91." Journal of Southern African Studies 18, no. 3 (1992).

Swilling, M. "The United Democratic Front and Township Revolt." In Popular Struggles in South Africa, eds. W. Cobbet and R. Cohen. London: James Curry, 1988.

Tilly, C. From Mobilisation to Revolution. New York: Random House, 1978.

Tilly, C., R. Tilly., and L. Tilly. The Rebellious Century: 1830 – 1930. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975.

Tilly, C. "Models and Realities of Popular Collective Action." Social Research 52, no. 4 (1985).

Touraine, A. The Voice and the Eye: An Analysis of Social Movements. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Touraine, A. "An Introduction to the Study of Social Movements." Social Research 52, no. 4 (1985).

Zald, M., and R. Ash. "Social Movement Organisation: Growth, Decay and Change." Social Forces 44 (March 1966).

Zald, M., and J. McCarthy. "Resource Mobilisation Theory" In Social Movements in an Organisational Society, eds. M. Zald and J. McCarthy. Oxford: Transaction Books, 1987.

Zald, M., and R. Garner. "Social Movements Organisations: Growth, Decay and Change." In Social Movements in an Organisational Society, eds. M. Zald and J. McCarthy. Oxford: Transaction Books, 1987.


© Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation

+ posts

CSVR is a multi-disciplinary institute that seeks to understand and prevent violence, heal its effects and build sustainable peace at the community, national and regional levels.

Related Content

Transitional Justice in Crisis Situations: Addressing Violent Extremism, Beyond a Militarised Approach

Wake-up Call for Schools in South Africa

COVID-19: Where to from Here for Efforts to Support Youth Economic Inclusion?

Press Release: Alarm Bells over School Crimes

Research Brief: What Drives Violence in South Africa

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Translate »