EAGER: ANC Youth League deputy president Ronald Lamola speaking at a policy workshop with civil society in Pretoria. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

AFRICAN National Congress Youth League deputy president Ronald Lamola gave a passionate defence of the visionary leadership capabilities of young people yesterday, in a thinly veiled criticism of the African National Congress ( ANC) leadership under President Jacob Zuma.

Speaking mainly to students at the youth league's civil society dialogue at the University of SA in Pretoria, Mr Lamola questioned the calibre of SA's leadership, asking whether they were capable of promoting youth participation in the mainstream economy.

While finding the proposed youth-wage subsidy unpalatable, Mr Lamola said the future of successful youth participation in the economy required a radical shift to the left of the ANC and government policy.

Earlier, he compared Mr Zuma unfavourably with previous presidents, saying those presidents had known they were leading a nation not "a geographical tribe where they come from".

Former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela were "national leaders who understood national priorities".

"The leadership of the country must move beyond thinking about their villages and geographical tribes, and lead the whole nation," Mr Lamola said.

He had been suggested in certain quarters as a possible replacement for former youth league president Julius Malema who had been expelled for, among other charges, comparing Mr Zuma with former president Thabo Mbeki.

The meeting yesterday was a preview of the arguments the youth league would take to the ANC national policy conference next week, with some of the delegates to the conference participating in the debates.

It also appeared to be an attempt to showcase the strength of their arguments in the call for a radical policy shift, as well as perceived deficiencies in the ANC leadership.

Since ditching Mr Zuma, the youth league has appeared to be looking to the West for its role models. The language yesterday was about what business luminaries such as Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates had been able to achieve, "because they had a platform to showcase their innovative ideas", said Mr Lamola.

"What kind of leaders do we have today, to be able for us to assist young people to play a meaningful role in South African society?" asked Mr Lamola.

Former youth league deputy president Andile Lungisa was more blunt about the shortcomings of Mr Zuma's government.

Mr Lungisa said the "confusion over economic transformation today was because we have a leadership that is not decisive".

"In SA we have got the weakness of leadership," he said.

This could be seen as part of the campaign to sway the popular vote against Mr Zuma at the ANC's Mangaung electoral conference in December, where the president will be seeking a second term.

However, some of the members of the audience were not convinced with the youth league's proposals on nationalisation and land expropriation without compensation, prompting Mr Lungisa to point out that lack of transformation in the education system was also a problem.

Mr Lamola said SA needed a liberation movement that would be more radical "than what we have seen today".

Mr Lamola also said the ANC should be more "pragmatic" when pursuing its leftist agenda, and that it should "never apologise for changing the constitution," something that would be necessary to redistribute the country's wealth.

He said the ANC had been misled by the International Monetary Fund into believing that it would be able to redistribute and therefore address racial inequality in land ownership by 2014.

He said that it was no longer enough to talk about increasing the generational mix of the ANC leadership, but that the leadership needed "a generational takeover".

The youth league adopted a "generational mix" approach at its national conference last year, promoting its former president and now Sport and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula to take over from ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe in Mangaung.