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"It is certainly not our task to build up the future in advance and to settle all problems for all time, but it is just as certainly our task to criticise the existing world ruthlessly. I mean ruthlessly in the sense that we must not be afraid of our own conclusions and equally unafraid of coming into conflict with the prevailing powers."
Karl Marx, 1844

Engage In Disciplined Mass Action!

Published: circa 1990

Since the beginning of the defiance campaign in the middle of 1989 there has been a countrywide re-awakening of the masses in South Africa. Thousands upon thousands of our people have entered struggle throughout SA. From cities, towns, townships, villages, to schools, universities, factories and farms, the people of South Africa are saying no to apartheid and exploitation. The unbanning of the ANC, SACP and other organisations have instilled further determination and confidence among the people, and this has led to a further heightening of the mass struggle.

As we know, this process of re-awakening has seen thousands of young people coming to the frontline. In schools, colleges, universities, and in the communities, thousands upon thousands of young lions have put their energy and lives at the service of the struggle for freedom. We also know that SAYCO has been one of the organisations at the frontline.

As our late comrade Amilar Cabral once said, we must “tell no lies and claim no easy victories.” Side by side with the victories that have been registered by the mass movement under the leadership of the ANC, we have also experienced many problems. These problems have not only been restricted to the youth movement, but also affect many of our fraternal organisations. The mass upsurge has revealed an urgent need to address our organisational weaknesses. The problems are many and they demand the serious attention of all militants. Let us look at some of the problems:

  1. In our region SAYCO has developed unevenly. Some areas have a large membership and others are battling to attract youth into the ranks of SAYCO.
  2. There is a lack of resources and finance, which affects our ability to organize.
  3. There is a lack of co-ordination between areas and other locals. This has meant that we are unable to utilise the experience of the stronger areas and help the weaker ones.
  4. We also suffer from insufficient political education and from lack of training in organisational skills.
  5. This lack of political education and training together with weak organisation, has led to ill-discipline on the part of many members. In some cases, because of the absence of proper SAYCO structures, youth act without any organisational mandate. This has also led to the problems of people’s courts which alienate the mass of people in our communities.
  6. Our organisations and militants are still faced with repression from the state and its puppets. Vigilantes, Inkatha and the ZP’s continue to attack our organisations and militants. In the face of this attack, we have to recognise the fact that some of our areas do not have proper defence committees.

Comrades, it is clear that although we have won many victories, we also have many problems to overcome. As militants we need to put our heads together, take a hard look at ourselves, and collectively work out solutions to what are clearly burning questions for our movements.

1. Build a mass-based ANC Youth League!

In a number of discussions in our zones and locals the questions of ill-discipline of some of our members, and also that of others outside our structures has been raised a number of times. There are clearly many reasons for the lack of discipline that we see around us. Some of this ill-discipline is beyond Sayco’s control. Factors such as high unemployment, lack of schools and general criminal elements are the results of apartheid and exploitation. While we should make it our responsibility to show these elements their mistaken ways, we must make it clear that the oppressors and other mistaken individuals should not blame SAYCO for every incident in the townships. We must reject these accusations as attempts to discredit our organisations. But it is also clear that a big part of the ill-discipline is the result of the weakness of SAYCO structures in the townships. It is only when the overwhelming majority of youth are in SAYCO structures, only when these structures are able to guide the activities of youth on a regular basis, that we can begin to overcome the problems of discipline.

But it is not enough for us to say “we must build mass-based structures.” We must also say how these structures will be built. There are issues that we need to look at when tackling this problem. Firstly, we need to work out solutions as to how we will draw in wider and wider layers of youth into our structures. Secondly, we need to look at how to improve the quality of our organisation.

a) How can we attract more and more youth into SAYCO?

We need to begin by saying that there can be no single solution to this problem. In some areas there are no problems in drawing youth into structures, but there are problems with the quality of the structures. In some areas there are problems with both. The following ideas are some of the suggestions for tackling this problem. We also need to draw from the experience of many comrades in SAYCO and in other fraternal organisations.

Let us first look at those areas which have a history of militancy, for example, Umlazi, Ntuzuma and so on. In areas like these the youth structures are popular and we need to focus on strengthening the streets and yards committees. Where such structures at the base level do not exist the SAYCO local needs to undertake a door-to-door campaign. The aim of this door-to-door visit will be to explain to youth why it is important to join SAYCO, what SAYCO policies are, and how youth can join. SAYCO needs to draw up short pamphlets that can be left in the houses. The important thing about this kind of work is that we should always remember that the consciousness of parents, and even youth, will make them take a longer time to come over to our ideas. We need to exercise patience when we deal with them. It is not acceptable for our militants to be impatient when dealing with those members of our communities who are not yet in our structures. We must have confidence in the correctness of our position, we must patiently explain why joining our structures is in their best interest. This way of approaching our organisational work will force us to understand our own policies, strategies and tactics, since we have to explain them to others. We will later look at how to strengthen our structures once youth have begun to come into them.

The task of attracting youth is more difficult in those areas without a history of militancy, for example, Sydenham, Clare Estate and so on. In these areas our first task is to first consolidate a layer of militants who will form the foundations of the organisation. These are people who have some kind of organisational experience. To get to some of these militants we need to identify organisations or institutions in which we can find them. Some might be in sports clubs, church youth organisations (YCS), etc. They might be in schools, university residences (e.g. M.L.Sultan Residences). After identifying them we need to approach these organisations and institutions and meet with youth. If for instance there is a residence committee at the M.L. Sultan residence we should request a meeting with the committee, explain that our mission is to build a mass-based SAYCO, and that we would like them to cooperate with us in achieving this aim. The important thing is that we should draw these structures into the process of building a mass-based SAYCO. As we said when we discussed the more militant areas, we must always remember that people are at different levels of consciousness. We must patiently explain our objectives and win people over by showing them that our objectives and their interests are the same.

We also need to say that this strategy of identifying areas where youth come together in our communities, and targeting those areas for recruitment into SAYCO, can also be used in the militant areas as well. In both areas the aim is to have broader and broader layers of youth being part of SAYCO. At the same time, once a solid base of activists has been created by targeting specific sections of youth, we can go on to do house to house work even in those areas without a history of militancy. In our work of drawing broader and broader layers of youth into our ranks we must at all times bear in mind that not all youth have reached the same level of political development. This means that we have to explain to them why organisation is important. This also means that any campaign of recruitment must be preceded by thorough preparation. We must hold meetings before campaigns, where we can discuss what we will say, how we will say it and to whom. We must remember that members who are recruited in a disciplined way will already come into our organisations knowing that we take disciple actions seriously. The important thing is not only how many people we attract into our structures, but also how we do it.

b) How do we improve the quality of our organisation?

It is important for comrades to realise that it is not enough for us to simply have many members. We also need to discuss how we are going to maintain these members in our organisation and how we will educate them in organisational skills. We must remember that discipline comes through understanding. It is when the youth understand our policies, when they see the need for organisation that they will understand the need for disciplined collective action. But knowing our policy is not enough.  Our members also need to feel that SAYCO is there organisation, that it is they who control SAYCO. Only then will the masses of youth begin to take up the responsibility of seeing to it that SAYCO acts in a collective and disciple way. Let us look at the role of education and training.

  • The role of education and training

We all agree that the lack of political education is one of the most important factors that contribute to lack of discipline. What is therefore necessary is for SAYCO to work out a programme of work for all the ET groups in the locals and at a zonal level. We must take into consideration that not all locals have the same experience in running ET programmes. So, although locals will have to discuss holding their programmes for most of the time, by working out some part of the programme, at a regional level SAYCO can make sure that the stronger locals assist the weaker ones. For example, not all locals would know how to get literature on a certain political topic, for instance the Constituent Assembly. But by SAYCO working out a programme regionally, and finding out about the literature through using the experience of the stronger locals, it will be possible for the educational work of SAYCO to be done on a region-wide basis. It is important for us to realise that the work of political education is a big problem which requires the combined resources of the region to tackle.

Another point is that political education is not something that is done by “experts”. At all times we must strive to draw on broader and broader layers of our membership when preparing and executing our ET programmes. For example, the are many aspects to the work of organising ET programmes: venues have to be organised, videos have to be collected, posters advertising the programme have to be made, and so on. We must not let the few members of the ET sub-committees do this work. We must call or volunteers from all members to come and assist in making the programme a success. The drawing in of more and more members of our organisation into ET work is one of the most important ways in which we can spread political education. In this way we make every member feel that the programme belongs to them – and this is one of the surest ways towards a disciplined membership.

In most of our discussions on political education we sometimes forget that our members must also be trained in organisational skills. Our educational work does not only mean that members must know about the CA, socialism and issues such at that.  It also means that we must make broader and broader layers of our membership skills in organisational methods, for example, SAYCO can organise a workshop of people active in ET committees where issues such as how to find resources in Natal, how to prepare a programme and so on can be discussed. This workshop can again be repeated in the locals. In this regard we can learn a lot from our allies COSATU. Throughout the years COSATU unions have run programmes on how to do basic book keeping, how to chair meetings, how to report back and so on. By drawing on this experience we can go a long way towards building disciplined mass-based structures.

Let us now look at the role democracy and accountability in building disciplined mass-based structures.

  • The role of democracy and accountability

We have already said that more and more members of SAYCO must be involved in SAYCO activity. But our members must not only be involved in SAYCO activity. They must also be involved in decision making. At all times we must strive to make sure that all our members, even those in the most basic structures, are involved in discussing SAYCO policy and also deciding on SAYCO activities. These views must be fed into higher structures where final decisions are taken. We must build up a culture of democratic practise. In most cases the absence of any democratic discussion can lead to fighting amongst ourselves. This is uncomradely and is the first step on the road to ill-disciplined action outside our structures.

Democratic discussion and decision-making also means that those who are mandated to take the decisions of the organisation to other structures, or to execute tasks, must be accountable to the organisation. Accountability must not be seen as an attempt to “catch” those who we mandate. It is a continuation of the process of democratic discussion. By ensuring that proper report backs are made we also make sure that the members of our structures can share in the experience of other structures. For instance, our local might take a certain position on an issue when this is taken up to a GC other comrades might show that we were mistaken. If no report back happens we might never learn how to look at issues in a new way. Accountability is also a way of ensuring that comrades execute the tasks that are necessary for the growth of the organisation. Most importantly, accountability makes sure that the broad membership of the organisation can feel that “SAYCO is ours”. The youth will know that SAYCO is the place where they must bring their problems, their views, their disagreements, so that a common perspective can be worked out. Once youth know and feel that “SAYCO is ours”, they will have taken a giant step towards disciple action. They will know that the organisation which will listen to their views is SAYCO. It will become clearer to them that action without consulting with other comrades does not serve the interests of the struggle. But for them to know this our leadership at all levels of the organisation has to be accountable.

2. A Clearer Programme of Action is Necessary!

We all know that in South Africa apartheid and capitalism have made the lives of the majority of our people unbearable. This has led to many spontaneous struggles against the apartheid regime and the capitalist bosses. We also know that here in Natal the need to efend ourselves against Inkatha and its vigilantes is necessary on a daily basis. We can see therefore that when thousands of people engage in struggle without organisation the chances of a lack of discipline are great. But it is also clear that the spontaneous action cannot be ended at will. Just telling people not to engage insstruggle spontaneously will not help. In fact people will start thinking tha SAYCO says they must not struggle. For SAYCO the way forward is to organise these spontaneous struggles and instill a sense of discipline into them. To do this SAYCO must have a clear programme of mass action to guide these struggles. This does not mean that SAYCO must accept all instances of action and bringing them under its banner. Some struggles are taken up by youth in an incorrect manner. SAYCO’s task is to show the youth how struggles must be taken up. SAYCO must say to the youth: “We understand that your problems are legitimate. But the way you are taking them up will be counterproductive to your struggle. Come into SAYCO and let us share views on how to take these struggles up”.

As we have already said, the broad layers of our membership must be drawn into drawing up programmes of action. In this way they will be made to feel that SAYCO is taking up their problems. Where there ideas are shown to be mistaken, other comrades must explain why this is the case. We must see the process of discussing and implementing programmes of action as a process of political education.

The other important thing about programmes of action is that they must be coordinated on a region-wide and nation-wide basis. In some cases the conflict that arises in our communities is a result of the fact that we do not properly coordinate our campaigns. For instance, if a campaign is not coordinated it is easy for one area to stop (e.g. a consumer boycott) while another area continues. This lack of coordination leads to confusion and conflict. Out of such conflict it is even easy for other elements who do not have the struggles interests at heart to use the confusion for their own ends. Furthermore, other honest but misinformed elements can easily follow these elements because of the confusion.  It is therefore important that SAYCO coordinates its campaigns so that we can eliminate this source of ill-discipline.

Coordination of campaigns cannot only be restricted to SAYCO structures. It is equally important that we coordinate our campaigns with all other structures of the Congress Alliance, including the ANC. We must not only consult these structures when we want them to participate in campaigns. Even if the campaign will only need the participation of youth, we must still consult our allies so that our actions, what they are for, and what they will be, are known by the entire democratic movement.

The other important issue is that when we take up campaigns and decide on a certain form of action we must always bear in mind the unevenness in our communities. We must be sensitive to the mood of the people at all times. For instance, it would be incorrect for the youth to assume that our parents are prepared to take stay-away action at all times, and at short notice. What this means for us is that campaigns need to be seriously prepared for. Consultation with other structures of the democratic movement or even a door-to-door survey will give us an idea about the mood of the people. It is true that we also have a responsibility to convince the communities we come from of the correctness of our programme of action. But in doing this we must show sensitivity and patience. This sensitivity also means we must know when to end the campaign. People might support a campaign at the beginning but might support it less later. This does not mean they are now “reactionary” what it means is that new tactics might be needed, or that the campaign must be ended even if we have not achieved all our demands. Again, this must be done in consultation with all the mass-based democratic structures.

We have mentioned the fact that we need to use campaigns as a means of educating our members and our community. This means that if we decide to hold a march through the township we must discuss in our structures the aims of the march, the demands of the march and also at which stage of the campaign does the march fit. In this way we are training and educating our members in the methods of political struggle.

SAYCO also needs to pay attention to the need for propaganda. Propaganda is important both as a tool for education and as a tool for information (e.g. about campaigns and their aims and methods).


The question of discipline in our structures is a very serious one. The way to tackle this problem is through building democratic mass-based structures. It is also important that leadership at all levels of the organisation is accountable. We also saw that to maintain our membership and ensure disciplined action we must undertake a programme of political education and training. Our campaigns must be properly coordinated and we must consult other mass-based structures in our communities including the ANC. It is this way of approaching the question of discipline that we need to discuss in our ranks. Comrades, have a lot of concrete experience in building organisation and undertaking disciplined mass action. These experiences must be brought together and a common approach to strengthening our structures and ensuring discipline in our ranks must be worked out.

Build a mass-based ANCYL!

Build a mass-based ANC!

Forward with the struggle for CA!

"Ideas that enter the mind under fire remain there securely and forever." -Leon Trotsky

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