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Durham University

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Publication details for Dr Anne Heffernan

Heffernan, Anne (2016). Blurred lines and ideological divisions in South African youth politics. African Affairs 115(461): 664-687.

Author(s) from Durham


Ideological affiliations like Africanism, charterism, and Black Consciousness shaped the political boundaries of student and youth political groups in South Africa during the tumultuous 1980s, and continue to inform contemporary youth politics. These delineations have also been used in the secondary literature to understand organizational competition and when considering how young activists negotiated contested political ground. However, this article suggests that the boundaries between opposing organizations were often blurred by their overlapping use of competing ideologies. It further argues that these divisions, although articulated ideologically, were rooted in organizational affiliation and competition for political influence and territory. It analyses the ideological development of the Congress of South African Students, the Azanian Students’ Organization, and the South African Youth Congress, and tracks the changing scope for ideological expression within charterist student and youth formations. It suggests that during the 1980s the scope for differing ideological expression narrowed, and links this process to the ANC's efforts to establish hegemony within the charterist movement. The article argues that this history is important in order to understand the ideological ‘unruliness’ or flexibility of the ANC Youth League after apartheid and the rise of Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters, and considers how ideological difference within youth politics is beginning to be expressed outside the fold of charterism.