Lenasia Youth League (LYL)

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A poster of Lenasia Youth League calendar, 1988. Source: DISA

A township emerging as a result of the Group Areas Act of 1950, Lenasia was the scene of waves of anti-apartheid activity. Some African National Congress (ANC) members had moved to the township in the 1950s and had a presence, but residents were also politicised by the fact of apartheid itself. It was the Lenasia branch of the Black Consciousness Movement that planted anti-apartheid politics firmly in the soil of the township in the early 1970s. From that intervention, a more or less consistent level of resistance to apartheid continued until the dawn of democracy.

A brief history of key political events in Lenasia

In October 1977, BC-aligned students organised a meeting to protest against the banning of the BC organisations and the death of Steve Biko. The students were arrested for holding an illegal meeting, but many continued to engage in sporadic political activity after their experience. By the late 1970s and early 80s, the BC movement began to decline.

Later, in 1980, students at schools began to organise formal structures to represent student grievances, and engaged in boycotts that were supported by masses of students, as well as by the community at large.

In 1981, Congress-aligned activists mounted a campaign to thwart elections to the government sponsored South African Indian Council, and formed the Transvaal Anti-SAIC committee. The Anti-SAIC campaign was remarkably successful, and the level of mobilisation quite high. Senior activists sought to sustain the level of activity after the Anti-SAIC campaign had achieved its objective, and the decision was made to form a youth body.

The launch of the LYL

The Lenasia Youth League (LYL) was formed in the wake of the Anti-SAIC campaign of 1981 and the school boycotts of the previous year. Activists in the Indian township sought to channel the energies of the youth, who had shown a willingness to oppose apartheid policies and practices during the school boycotts and the Anti-SAIC campaign.

One of the first youth organisations in the then Transvaal, the LYL recruited scholars, university students, and working and unemployed youth. And with the waning of BC activity by the early 1980s, the youth of Lenasia were primed to embrace Congress organisations. The league adopted a name that emulated the tradition of ANC’s youth league of the 1940s.

The league was formally launched on 5 June 1982, with Nazir Carrim elected as president, Jitendra Hargovan as vice president, Mohseen Moosa as secretary, and Rashid Seedat and Neeshan Bolton as members of the executive committee. Ismail Vadi, a senior activist, guided the young activists in their deliberations and decisions.

Ismail Vadi played an important role in guiding young LYL activists. Source: http://www.techcentral.co.za/

The league’s first decision was to hold a youth conference from 9th to 15th December 1982, under the theme ‘Expression, Participation and Unity’. Activities included a variety concert, a musical concert, a roller-skating competition, a marathon, an art and film festival and a swimming gala. Youth from Durban and Cape Town – especially a strong contingent from the Cape Youth Congress - attended the festival.

Rehana Roussouw, a budding activist from Landsdowne in the Cape, remembers that many political and personal relationships were forged during the festival, and many of the participants went on to become serious role players in organisations such as the United Democratic Front (UDF). Relationships were also forged with non-Indian activists from African and Coloured areas, such as Soweto and Eldorado Park.

Security police monitored the festival, and made their presence felt. Their attention was not without a basis in fact. Beneath the more youthful activities of the conference, a more serious process was underway: senior comrades such as Vadi were identifying youth to be recruited into uMkhonto we Sizwe, the ANC’s underground military wing. This development would become tragically evident when two MK cadres, Yusuf Akhalwaya and Prakash Napier, both LYL recruits, were killed in December 1989 when bombs they were planning to use exploded prematurely.

The LYL continued to mount cultural and sporting events over the next few years, using the process to conscientise the youth of Lenasia. In 1983 they launched Operation Winterwarm, Operation Cleanup, the Lenasia Bursary Committee, and helped continue an educational programme launched by BC activists a few years earlier, Time to Learn.

With the launch of the UDF in 1983, the league officially aligned itself to the front, and played a major role in drawing students into UDF campaigns. When PW Botha announced plans for elections to the Tricameral Parliament, LYL activists played a significant role in mobilizing the people of Lenasia to boycott the elections. The campaign saw one of the most successful political rallies held in the township, with 3000 people attending.

On the actual election day, on 28 August, youth staged a march to the polling station to publicise their stance. Police attacked the students and Lenasia saw its most violent confrontation between police and the youth.

Protest in Lenasia during the 'Tricameral election day, 28 August 1983. Photographer Paul Weinberg, Permission: Africamediaonline

When activists attended the funerals of Mathew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlawuli in the Eastern Cape after they were murdered, the announcement of the State of Emergency was made at the funeral in July 1984. On their return to Lenasia, in a bus holding activists from Soweto and Eldorado Park, LYL members Rashid Seedat, Mohseen Moosa, Yusuf Areff, Feisel Mayet, Alim Jeeva and Kim Morgan were arrested. With a series of youth organisations being formed throughout the country, the LYL and its partners decided to launch a national federation of youth congresses, giving birth to the South African Youth Congress (SAYCO) in 1984.

The UN declared that 1985 would be known as International Youth Year (IYY), and the LYL participated in the campaign, holding an IYY sports festival.

The LYL also decided to launch a school-based youth body, and the Lenasia Student Congress was formed in March 1988. But the declaration of the State of Emergency in 1984 saw increasing harassment of the LYL activists, and by the late 1980s the body lost its momentum.

Last updated : 24-May-2012

This article was produced for South African History Online on 24-May-2012