ANC Youth League meets today faced with obstacles to overcome after serious blunders marred its image

Scores of ANC Youth League delegates meet at Nasrec, Johannesburg, today for the second leg of the organisation's 23rd national congress.

Scores of ANC Youth League delegates meet at Nasrec, Johannesburg, today for the second leg of the organisation's 23rd national congress.

The first leg, held in April at the University of Free State, ended in chaos after violence broke out among the delegates. Despite the fracas, a faction well known for its support for ANC president Jacob Zuma came out triumphant after being voted into the league's top five positions led by Julius Malema.

Part of the agenda of this second leg is to elect national executive members. One of the challenges facing the delegates is coming out of the congress as a united ANCYL - with a leadership that enjoys the confidence of the majority of members.

With only nine months left before next year's general elections, it is imperative for the ANCYL to come out of this congress as a united force.

Given recent developments, the league does face serious obstacles. These include the recent reckless statement by Malema that they are "prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma".

The statement has caused ructions even within the ANCYL, with some members arguing that such utterances are an example of how Malema has failed to grasp the challenges the league is facing.

For his part, Malema does seem to be stuck in a time warp, firing off ill-conceived statements in the name of the legacy created by outstanding former youth leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Anton Lembede.

What he fails to grasp is that, for example, it was Mandela who called on South Africans - including the youth - to think with their minds instead of their hearts.

In his book To the Brink: The State of Democracy in South Africa,political commentator Xolela Mangcu aptly captures the challenges that the ANCYL faces.

"People in power need a new and smarter kind of radicalism, a radicalism that recognises and accepts the fact of social plurality and seeks to build new alliances, even with former (oppressors) enemies. Now I cannot imagine a more important strategic leadership challenge for our country as we enter the second decade of our freedom."

Another important issue Mangcu raises is how those who have acquired power use it to enhance accountable leadership.

"We cannot continue to assume the position of victims even as we are in power."

In its attempt to justify Malema's utterances, the league said defending Zuma in such a bloody manner amounted to defending "the revolution against dark forces bent on reversing the gains made in the struggle for this country's liberation".

When asked during an interview this week who these "forces of darkness" were, ANCYL general secretary Vuyiswa Tulelo failed to deliver.

By playing victim of these powerful, amorphous "forces of darkness", the ANCYL justifies its leadership's unbecoming behaviour. This is because in any struggle the victims tend to adopt the dictum that the end justifies the means.

The ANCYL cannot continue playing victim because not only is it part of the ANC ruling coalition, but it also exists in a society where there are institutions to protect political freedom.

Our Constitution allows the ANCYL to express its support for Zuma, especially if it believes that he will not get a fair trial. There is the option of going the legal route - like Zuma's defence team has done. But the ANCYL members could also hold orderly public demonstrations to express their support for Zuma. What they cannot expect to get away with is to disparage the very same institutions established by the ANC-led government. They can also not use language that goes against the spirit of the Constitution - whose pillars are peaceful co-existence and respect for people's rights.

It is in this spirit that the Human Rights Commission has called on Malema to apologise for his utterances. The HRC has described Malema's utterances as being in conflict with the Constitution.

Some ANCYL members believe that one of the shortcomings of the new ANC leadership is its failure to move beyond the support for Zuma against Mbeki post-Polokwane.

"Unfortunately, both the new leadership of the ANC and the ANCYL have made their support for Zuma the main thrust of their political agenda. They have turned Zuma's trial into a trial against the ANC," says an ANCYL insider.

This is couched in archaic radicalism that does not, for example, resonate with the aspirations of the youth today, says the insider.

Today's youth want a leadership that will give them hope and take up their issues of access to education, unemployment and the scourge of Aids. They expect that leadership to form alliances with other sections of society to confront these challenges.

Instead what the new ANC coalition - including the SACP, Cosatu and the ANCYL - has done is to rally support for Zuma that says "you are either with the revolution or against it".

The HRC has said Malema's utterances were discriminatory against those who do not support Zuma.

The effect of this is unfortunately felt both within and outside of the ANC-led coalition.

If it is to continue playing its historical role as an agent of change, the ANCYL must come out of the Nasrec conference having rid itself of this bipolar approach to Zuma's case.

As another ANCYL insider put it: "The ANC will only be saved by the fact that the South African electorate still does not vote on issues but on emotion."