THE African National Congress (ANC) Youth League leadership had "veered off the rails" and become obsessed with the leadership of the party, says former youth league president and national executive committee (NEC) member Malusi Gigaba.

Shortly after the expulsion of former league president Julius Malema, deputy Ronald Lamola was lambasted by the ANC last week for criticising President Jacob Zuma.

In recent years, the relationship between the league and ANC has been acrimonious, with league leaders at the forefront of the bid to prevent Mr Zuma from achieving a second term in office.

Ironically, Mr Malema and the league under its previous president, now sports minister, Fikile Mbalula, were instrumental in Mr Zuma's rise to the ruling party's presidency.

Mr Gigaba, who is also public enterprises minister, spoke out this week about the current generation of league leaders, admonishing them for allegedly failing to champion the causes of their own constituency.

"Is it necessary for you to be so obsessed with the leadership of the ANC and to say nothing or very little about the challenges facing young people at the present stage? About the challenges facing the ANC?" he asked.

The league should have volunteered to deliver textbooks in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape and assisted with the education woes in those provinces, but instead its energies were occupied with talking about and insulting Mr Zuma.

"I think the leadership of the league has derailed.. I think they've veered totally off the rail, they have become an impediment for the youth understanding the ANC as they should, and they have become an impediment for the ANC reaching out to the youth as it should," he said. "There is no longer that seamless point of contact; they have raised themselves as an obstacle and I think that the ANC must deal with this."

Members of the league leadership should be summoned by the party at some point and told that they were wrong, he said.

"It might be necessary at some point for the ANC NEC to summon the (youth league) NEC and say ... you are firing people without due process, you are dissolving your structures, you are undermining your own constitution, you are playing an oppositional role to the ANC."

The youth league recently passed a motion of no confidence in its treasurer, Pule Mabe, said to have ambitions of replacing Mr Malema.

It has had to beef up its national working committee to assist with the running of the organisation, with only two of its top five leaders remaining in their positions. Its secretary-general, Sindiso Magaqa, was suspended for a year in the disciplinary process that led to Mr Malema's expulsion. They were sanctioned for sowing disunity and bringing the ANC into disrepute.

"I think the ANC needs to help the youth league to refocus on the challenges of its constituency, that does not mean that the youth league does not have a right to be critical," Mr Gigaba said. "The rights and duties of the league to make mistakes must not be turned into a fetish. The autonomy of the youth league is given by the ANC consciously, it was not coerced or even cajoled."

Mr Gigaba warned that the league should heed its elders, learn from its mistakes and when it failed to listen, the ANC should "wield the stick".

Mr Gigaba said the league should be a point of contact between the youth and the ANC, and it was also the ANC's duty to support its youth league.

marriann@bdfm.co.za