THE BIG READ: Masina can make or break ANC poll drive
When Mzwandile Masina, the convener of the ANC Youth League national task team, announced on Monday that 27 regions and four provinces of the league would be disbanded, very few were shocked.
Those who follow youth league politics would have known that there was no way the task team would have seen eye-to-eye with regional and provincial structures elected in the era of the now expelled leader Julius Malema.
Masina's history in the league becomes relevant in understanding this.
Masina was a delegate at the chaotic 2008 "bums" national conference of the league that introduced Malema - then a provincial youth league secretary in Limpopo - to the rest of the country. Masina was part of the group that left the conference dejected following Saki Mofokeng's defeat by Malema.
His group appealed for the ANC's intervention but Luthuli House confirmed Malema as the legitimate president of the league.
But Masina did not give up.
He resurfaced in 2011 and was part of an unsuccessful campaign to remove Malema at the next conference, held in Midrand. But his candidate, Gauteng league chairman Lebogang Maile, withdrew from the race after he realised that his campaign was doomed to fail. Malema was just too powerful.
Masina soldiered on.
When Malema and his allies started a campaign to replace party president Jacob Zuma with his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, at the ANC national congress in Mangaung, Masina re-emerged on the political scene, this time as a staunch supporter of Zuma in Gauteng.
Working closely with Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane, former presidential spokesman Zizi Kodwa, disgraced former Gauteng MEC Humphrey Mmemezi, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga's special adviser Panyaza Lesufi and others, Masina crisscrossed Gauteng campaigning for Zuma's second term as ANC president.
He is credited with having played a key role in swaying branches in Zuma's favour, despite the provincial executive committee's decision to support Motlanthe.
It therefore came as no surprise when Masina was appointed convener of the task team, which replaced the disbanded Malema-aligned executive of the youth league. Soon after his appointment, whispers of a looming purge of Malema allies were heard.
To counter possible accusations of a purge of political opponents, Masina and his team visited all provinces and regions to interact with youth league leaders and members.
According to him,league structures in disbanded provinces and regions were found to be "non-existent". The structures, he said, were marred by infighting, factionalism and "gate-keeping".
"There was no organisation there," he said yesterday.
What Masina edited out of his version is an account of the hostile reception his team received in areas deemed to be under the control of former Malema allies.
League insiders say they were booed in some areas. In others they were prevented from even addressing league meetings.
"In many of the areas they visited, they were told: 'We didn't elect you. Who are you?'," said a league leader.
"It is only in KwaZulu-Natal that they received a warm welcome," said another.
In other words, the same regions and provinces that elected Malema at successive league conferences were Masina's political opponents.
It is, therefore, hard to believe him when he says the disbanding of structures was not aimed at getting rid of Malema allies.
After all, he accused those structures of serving "the master", a veiled reference to Malema.
"Those structures were non-existent. They were serving the master. We hope they'll go to the new party that is being formed and real members of the youth league will remain."
Masina questions why these disbandments are being put under the microscope when Malema did the same to his detractors. He pointed to the dissolution of the league executive committees of KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Western Cape during Malema's tenure.
Masina is right. Malema was harsh when dealing with dissent. But an eye-for-an-eye principle could be costly for the ANC as it heads to general elections next year.
Masina's team has been given the huge task of rebuilding the ANC Youth League before handing over to a new leadership next year. Its immediate task is to restore order, which is crucial to the ANC's election campaign machinery.
It is these young people who usually become volunteers, conducting door-to-door campaigns for the party.
Any sign of a purge has the potential to cause more divisions.
With Malema having announced plans to form a new party - built on his youthful energy and radicalism - it would not be surprising to see some of these young people throwing in their lot with him.
After all, he is the leader they elected and their supposed "interim" leaders have told them to follow "the master".