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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

South African Youth Congress (SAYCO)

Youth organisations were the cutting edge of the UDF. After the launch of the UDF more than half its affiliated membership was drawn from the

Congress of South African Students (Cosas). After the banning of Cosas in 1985, a new black youth organisation, the South African Youth Congress, was launched on 28 March 1987 with an alleged membership of between 600 000 and 700 000. The charismatic Peter Mokaba, a former political prisoner on Robben Island, was appointed as president of the new organisation, and Rapu Molekane as general secretary.

Sayco was launched at a time when the state took strong action against resistance organisations. Established secretly in Cape Town, Sayco was accordingly not immediately suppressed. The group's symbols and its slogan "Freedom or Death Victory is Certain" were a clear challenge to the state. Mokaba himself gained popularity with the slogan "Roar, young lions, roar". This display of self-confidence arose from the organisation's conviction that it was destined to survive.

Sayco must be seen as the tip of the iceberg to regional youth congresses, such as the Southern Transvaal Youth Congress (STYCO) and Northern Transvaal Youth Congress (NTYCO), were formed in the period preceding the launch of Sayco amid the same secrecy. These youth congresses were among the institutions planned by Cosas in January 1984. In February 1985, at a national youth congress, it was decided that the youth movement should adopt a federal rather than a unitary structure. This decision was motivated by the belief that the youth congresses should be allowed to develop "organically at grassroots level". The political differences among the various congresses also made a federal structure more attractive. Many youth leaders were arrested after the state of emergency was imposed in 1985. On their release in March 1986, the work of the youth congresses was resumed.

According to the leaders of Sayco, its potential support base is in excess of 2 million. The organisation accepted the Freedom Charter. It also undertook to cooperate with Cosatu and the NECC. Sayco's aims include:

To politicize and unite the youth.

To channel the militancy and creativity of the youth to the advantage of the entire national and class struggle.

To strive for free, non-racial, democratic and compulsory education.

To organise the unemployed youth for the struggle.

To encourage the employed youth to join progressive trade unions.

Shortly after its inception Sayco launched a worldwide campaign to save the lives of 32 people sentenced to death for crimes such as necklace murders and the killing of council members and police informants. Sayco leaders toured nationally and internationally to promote the notion of "international solidarity", in which the struggle in South Africa was contextualized in terms of the struggle in the rest of Africa and the rest of the world. On 24 February 1988 Sayco and 16 other resistance organisations were restricted in terms of the state of emergency. With the exception of one person, the entire national executive committee of Sayco was arrested.

In February 1988 the South African Students' Congress (Sasco) was launched in place of Sayco. Sasco also accepted the Freedom Charter. In anticipation of reprisals by the security forces against Sasco, numerous youth congresses, referred to above, were launched. The authorities alleged that school, consumer and rent boycotts were planned or executed by these organisations, and that people had been coerced into participating in the boycotts. The organisations' involvement in the propagation of "people's education" was an aggravating factor, leading to the restriction of leaders and groups.

On 2 February 1990 restrictions on Sayco and 32 other organisations were lifted. At its first national congress at KaNyamasane near Nelspruit in April 1990 Nelson Mandela was the main speaker. An important point on the agenda was the relationship between Sayco and the ANC's youth section. The ANC, which wants to reactivate the ANC Youth League, perceives Sayco as a rival organisation, while Sayco in turn alleges that most of its members want to join the ANC. At the congress it was decided that Sayco would integrate with the ANC's youth section and that the youth would help to develop ANC structures.

During the months following the congress Sayco made overtures to white youth organisations such as Jeugkrag and Jong Dames Dinamiek. Parks Mankahlana, publicity secretary of Sayco, gave the country's present "transitional period" as a justification for this step. On 16 June 1990 Sayco placed an Afrikaans advertisement in an Afrikaans newspaper, calling on white youths to join Sayco, Cosatu and the ANC. It also intends arranging visits between black and white youth groups and launching extensive programmes to maintain "progressive contact".

The integration of Sayco into the ANC Youth League was taken a step further in October 1990 when the Provisional National Youth Commit-tee (PNYC) was launched. The committee consists of 29 members of different youth organisations such as Cosas, Sayco, Sansco and Nusas. Peter Mokaba acts as the chairman and Sayco has nine members on the committee, making it the group with the most representatives on the PNYC. From the composition of the PNYC it is clear that Sayco members will form the core of the reactivated ANC Youth League. Sayco is to be incorporated officially into the ANC Youth League towards the end of 1991.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.