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YOUNG LION: We will not accept a reshuffled Cabinet with no under-35s, warns new ANC NEC member Nonceba Mhlauli

YOUNG LION: We will not accept a reshuffled Cabinet with no under-35s, warns new ANC NEC member Nonceba Mhlauli

All eyes are on President Cyril Ramaphosa as he applies his mind to the imminent Cabinet reshuffle, in which a dozen ministers and deputies might get the chop and some young blood is likely to be elevated to ministerial positions. 

This comes after some failed to make it into the ANC’s highest decision-making body in between conferences, the National Executive Committee (NEC), which comprises 80 members elected at the 55th national conference in Nasrec. 

While being elected into the top structure does not automatically guarantee a job in Cabinet, the party previously said it was preferable that those in political office in government and Parliament should be NEC members.

Nonceba Mhlauli, spokesperson in the Presidency and the ANC Youth League’s national task team, is one of three young lions (under 35) to be elected into the top leadership structure for the first time.   

The 33-year-old made it to the list at number 55, having received 1,168 votes. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: “‘I wanted Ramaphosa,’ says ANCYL convener Nonceba Mhlauli, despite league’s official backing for Zweli Mkhize

Mhlauli, a known staunch Ramaphosa supporter, has a long list of credentials, having occupied several leadership positions in the party, from branch all the way up to national level. She carved out a niche in the Congress of South African Students (Cosas) and the often crude and brutal Youth League.

In 2021, she was appointed convener of the national task team to, among other things, revive and take the league to its conference. This was viewed as a historically significant move by the ANC because a woman had never been given the top position in the league.   

Nonceba Mhauli says ‘the first literature I was exposed to was ANC documents’. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Daily Maverick)

Her appointment came after the disbandment of the youth league in 2018, after it failed to elect new leadership. A task team appointed to revive the league was marred by internal squabbles as young people often used the league to champion the interests of their factions, or as a weapon to pursue individual opportunities.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Appointment of Nonceba Mhlauli to lead ANCYL task team is a historic moment 

The move to appoint Mhlauli to steer the youth ship out of politically troubled waters was also seen as a contribution towards the intensification of the fight against patriarchy, about which women in the party, and even in its higher structures, have strongly spoken. 

With a strong push to have young people elected into Cabinet, she stands a good chance of being elevated since she enjoys the support of young people, Cosas and the Young Communist League, among other structures, and by virtue of being in the NEC, despite having little experience in government (she has worked in the Presidency since 2019).


The 33-year-old hails from the small town of Upington in the Northern Cape, from a family of politicians — her grandfather and uncle were members of Umkhonto weSizwe, and her aunt a member of the ANC Women’s League.   

She believes her path was shaped by her township, family and ANC literature. 

“My uncle used to be a leader of the youth league when I was in primary school, so there was always ANC literature lying around the house. I remember when he would come back from conferences he would give me his papers and documents to read. In fact the first literature I was exposed to was ANC documents.”  

As early as 15, while in Grade 10, Mhlauli joined Cosas, and when she told her grandmother, was encouraged to join the youth league as well.  

Although, she admits that, at the time, she was not very politically active beyond being a member of both organisations.  

This changed when she matriculated in 2007 and left the small town after Grade 12, to pursue higher education at Rhodes University in King William’s Town (now Qonce), pursuing undergraduate studies in journalism and politics. As a first-year student she joined the South African Students Congress, and in 2008 was part of a group that launched the first branch of the youth league at the institution. She was elected first secretary and later chairperson of the league.  

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

Upon completion of her master’s degree in African language studies and political studies, Mhlauli went to Cape Town where she  took up her first formal job as a junior researcher for the South African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union. This was followed by the same position in the Western Cape legislature, then on to the National Assembly where she worked as a media liaison officer and, ultimately, spokesperson for the ANC caucus.  

In 2019, she was deployed to the Presidency as spokesperson, and in 2021 was appointed convener of the national task team, her current position.

Scoffed at critics

While Mhlauli has no scandals to her name, she is no stranger to controversy. 

Before the party’s national conference in December she was accused of not adhering to democratic centralism, when she posted, on Twitter and Facebook, a photo of Ramaphosa captioned “Mongameli” (“president”) – hours after the league endorsed former health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize for president.

After the picture drew criticism on both platforms, Mhlauli scoffed at her critics, asking: who is the current president of the liberation movement?   

Speaking to Daily Maverick, she was unapologetic about her support for Ramaphosa, a stance she’s maintained consistently. 

Speaking at a Peter Mokaba memorial lecture on the eve of the party’s 111th birthday, Mhlauli said young people would vehemently reject Ramaphosa’s January 8 speech if it did not comprehensively detail plans for how the party aimed to tackle the scourge of youth unemployment.   

In his address, Ramaphosa was vague about how it would be dealt with, other than to say that the “government must continue to prioritise the employment of young people in all our efforts”. He also spoke about the need to expand initiatives that provide work experience for young people. He has made these statements throughout his presidency.   

Despite the lack of timeframes, Mhlauli said: “I think the statement was very balanced in that the one thing which we were very worried about, we were about another statement very long, full of jargon, without any real content and any deliverables and time frames.”

The plan of action, deliverables and timeframes would be outlined at the party’s lekgotla this month, which would be followed by the NEC lekgotla. 

“Ours will be to track the implementation of what we said are the marching orders for the year 2023; the ANC said it is a year of decisive action.”  

If the ANC speaks about decisive action then it needs a plan to tackle the state of municipalities that are collapsing around the country, local deployees not servicing communities, rolling blackouts and implementing its own resolutions, she suggested.  

On the imminent Cabinet reshuffle, Mhlauli said young people demanded youth representation which it didn’t have in the previous cohort.  

Read in Daily Maverick: “With ANC election done, here’s what’s next on Ramaphosa’s list: The crumbling state, Cabinet reshuffle, 2024 polls” 

“We want young people in Cabinet particularly – young, not younger.”

Asked what this meant, she said: “People below the age of 35.”  

Nonceba Mhauli is unapologetic about her support for President Cyril Ramaphosa, a stance she’s maintained consistently. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Daily Maverick)

This is because when young people had previously demanded that young people be represented, they were told about the likes of Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola, who is 39. 

But, she insists, Lamola “isn’t young”. 

“If you look at the current Cabinet, there is no one below the age 35 here, and we’ve made it quite clear that the non-representation of youth in the NEC is a motion of no confidence in youth leadership.”   

The appointment of young people to Cabinet would be an affirmation of youth leadership.  

Other than young people, Mhlauli said Ramaphosa ought to appoint people who would represent the ANC’s commitment to a renewed organisation, which the party’s organisational report spoke about at length. 

“But more than anything, I think, as comrade Fikile Mbalula said last week, and just to borrow from his words, that we want people who are going to be at work, every single day, the whole day. We don’t want people who we wonder what do they do, we want people that are going to be at work in service of the people and the country,” she said.  

She would not be drawn into revealing names. 

“We have principles that we’ve just outlined.”   

On her availability to take up a leadership position in Cabinet, Mhlauli said: “I think young people in general ought to be given a chance and we do believe that if it does not happen, it would be grossly unfortunate and we will definitely not be accepting it.” DM


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