In 1987 The South African Youth Congress (SAYCO) was formed. This was regarded by the UDF as an important and successful development in its attempts to create a range of regional and sectorial organisations around the country. In 1986 the UDF had prioritised the building of national organisations in the women, youth and civic sectors. The second state of emergency reinforced the need for such structures but also made it difficult for such organisation to take place.
There were a lot of divisions within the different youth organisations. As we have seen, militant youths wanted direct confrontation, others supported going back to school, and others joined youth organisations and participated in consumer boycotts and other national campaigns.
In 1986, Peter Mokaba, a former prisoner on Robben Island, was elected as a national education officer. He was tasked with the healing of these divisions. He consulted with the ANC in exile, which lent support to this initiative. A planning workshop was held and finally, delegates from youth organisations from all over the country came together at the University of the Western Cape and SAYCO was launched.
SAYCO was the largest youth grouping in the history of South Africa. It brought together ten regional youth organisations and had a signed-up membership of half a million, and a support base of two million. It adopted the Freedom Charter.
As a result of restrictions imposed by the state of emergency, planning and organisation had to take place in secret. Peter Mokaba was a fiery speaker and refused to allow SAYCO to be silenced. Despite emergency restrictions, Mokaba adopted a confrontational approach. At SAYCO meeting the flags and colours of the South African Communist Party and the ANC were on display, almost as a direct challenge to the security forces. It called for a strong alliance between the youth and the working class and was able to build up strong organisational measures.
However, SAYCO leaders were subjected to police harassment and the organisation was forced to work in secret. Nevertheless, the sheer size of the organisation gave it strength and credibility. It proved to be one of the strongest of the UDF’s affiliates.
Exhibitions in the classroom
Pausing for thought
Do you think that the youth of today would benefit from the creation of a strong, united youth organisation? Explain.