Together with civic organizations, the youth played an in important role in the struggle against apartheid in the Western Cape. The first youth congress named the Cape Youth Congress (CAYCO) was formed in the province in July 1983 bringing together 35 youth groups. It was the formation of CAYCO working with COSAS that spurred the development of youth structures outside of schools and universities. CAYCO came as an initiative from the coloured areas where the formation of a regional youth movement had been under discussion from 1981. On the eve of its launch in 1983, groups of African arrived claiming to represent 8 COYCO braches. Coloured voted for coloureds for leadership, and African voted for African leadership. Thus CAYCO had to contend with racial divisions for 2 years of its earlier existence. This lessened in 1984 when Mzunani Rosebury Sonto was elected as president of COYCO in 1984.
CAYCO was largely responsible for the growth in popular support for the ANC in this region, which was not a stronghold of the ANC. For instance, after his election in 1984, Sonto helped mobilize support among the youth for the UDF. Peter Jacobs who also helped organise the CAYCO and COSAS at branch level was in touch with underground members of the ANC and its military wing MK. By 1985 political violence sweeping across the country had reached the Cape Peninsula. CAYCO and UWO which were affiliates of the UDF started campaigns which challenged the state and those who were regarded as traitors. Members of CAYCO recruited people from places such as KTC and the youth openly began to call for the unbanning of the ANC in funerals. They also distributed pamphlets and sang revolutionary songs.
In 1986 conflict broke out in Crossroads between the youth under CAYCO and elements led by Johnson Ngxobongwana who was aided by apartheid security forces. In October the government deployed special constables to police and patrol the area, but they began raiding, assaulting and torturing residents. Indoor meetings of CAYCO in KTC were violently broken up and those arrested were brutally assaulted and tortured at the Nyanga police station. This resulted in the destruction of CAYCO and the expulsion of UDF activists from the area.
In June 1987 CAYCO applied for and was granted an urgent Supreme Court interdict after submitting affidavits alleging torture, harassment, intimidation, assault, theft and sexual abuse committed by special constables. Thus in mid to late 80s CAYCO was at the forefront of battles with the police and army making possibly the most militant organisation in the region. The state responded by arresting and detaining CAYCO leaders such as Mzonke Jacobs, president of the CAYCO was detained by the police and released in July 1989. That same year an entire CAYCO executive narrowly escaped death and injury when a bomb exploded at the Early Learning Centre in Athlone where they had a meeting.