News / Africa

At 100, South Africa’s ANC Still Facing Hurdles

Delia Robertson

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, the ANC, celebrates the centennial of its founding at Mangaung in the Free State province this weekend. The lavish festivities launch a yearlong celebration expected to cost $12.5 million.

The ANC was founded on January 8th, 1912, in the Wesleyan Church in Bloemfontein -- now Mangaung -- by a group of tribal chiefs and representatives of church and civil-society groups who were determined to build an organization that would fight for the rights of blacks. These rights included land rights, freedom of movement and employment, which were denied to black South Africans under the laws of the British colonial government in power at the time.

One-hundred years later, President Jacob Zuma will lead the anniversary celebrations at the same (recently refurbished) little church in the presence of the political elite and foreign guests.

"We will have the president making a centenary statement about what it is that we have achieved, and what were the pains of the past 100 years, what were the glories and what it is that we are looking forward to in the next century," says ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu of Zuma’s address.

Steven Friedman, head of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg, says the most important of Zuma’s ANC “glories” will surely be easily to anticipate.

"Well, obviously the greatest achievement of the ANC is that apartheid has ended," he says. "It was committed to achieving full citizen rights for black people in South Africa and that was achieved in 1994. And surely that achievement dwarfs anything else that the ANC may have done during that period."

In many ways, the history of the ANC over the past century has mirrored that of the country as a whole. The organization began almost as a gentlemen’s club, with much debate, deliberation and, at times, discord, before launching the so-called Defiance Campaign in the 1950s. Groups of volunteers would actively court arrest by publicly defying restrictive laws, such as burning the hated “dompas” -- a permit which stipulated where the holder was permitted to live and work.

By 1961 an emerging leadership -- which included Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu -- argued that passive resistance had failed. They convinced a majority in the ANC to adopt a policy of armed struggle and the military party's wing, Mkhonto we Sizwe, or “Spear of the Nation” was formed. After hundreds of acts of sabotage, such as the blowing up of electricity towers, Mandela and the entire ANC leadership were jailed or fled into exile.

By the late 1980s, the ANC would undergo another shift. In the same way that he had risked his credibility within the ANC by urging armed struggle in the 1960s, Mandela began to move the party -- without its members' initial knowledge or consent -- toward a negotiated settlement with the apartheid state's rulers. He reached out to two former presidents, first the irascible P.W. Botha, known as the "Groot Krokodil" or "Great Crocodile," and to F.W. de Klerk, with whom he would share the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. The talks led to a political transition to full democracy.

The period following the first democratic election in 1994, which ended apartheid and saw Mandela become South Africa’s first black president, was marked by a euphoric coming together of both the country and the disparate elements that make up the broad church that is the ANC.

But it would not last. By 2000 the country and the ANC were struggled to cohere as old racial and factional cracks were opening anew. Friedman says disputes within the ANC affect the entire country because it is now the party in power.

"What used to be arguments about strategy to defeat apartheid is now competition for power, and competition for perks," he says. "Because obviously if you get into office you also have certain material benefits which flow from that. So it has become a much more intense contest because there is more at stake for the people it involves. And the ANC’s problem is that it hasn’t really found a set of rules and a [way] of going about its business which enable it to deal with this particular form of conflict."

That conflict is at present being publicly played out in the contest of will and power between President Zuma and Julius Malema, the often controversial leader of the ANC Youth League. Despite calls for a united front during the celebrations, Malema made it clear at a public rally on Thursday that the contest will soon resume.

"Once [the international visitors] are gone, then we go back to our issues," said Malema. "We must never forget our issues. And when we deal with those issues, we must never apologize, you must never be scared, you must never be governed by fear. You must fight like there is no tomorrow to what you believe in. And our discipline in Mangaung must never be confused with defeat."

Friedman says that, in the immediate future, the ANC needs to find a way to manage from within.

"The immediate problem is how to manage competition within the ANC so that it becomes a healthy competition for posts rather, than a damaging competition in which the winners always try to get the losers expelled and the losers always claim that the winners cheated," he says.

As the party in power, the ANC has failed to deliver on many of its promises made over the years for a "better life for all." South Africa has become one of the most unequal countries in the world, with an enormous gap between rich and poor.

Friedman says this is in part because the ANC has lost touch with its constituency and needs to remedy the situation.

"The other urgent task that the ANC has is that it really needs to reconnect with its voters, or to connect with its voters because it is not entirely sure that it was ever connected with its voters," he says. "I think there is a great deal of concern among ANC voters who feel that the politicians are not taking them seriously, that the politicians are concerned about themselves and not about the people who elected them."

The ANC has dominated political power since 1994 and still commands more than 60 percent of the vote in elections. Analysts say it would take a split in the ANC before that lead was trimmed in any significant way. They also suggest the split is likely to come between the left and centrist groups in the party.

Friedman disagrees. He says the split is most likely to come between those who see the ANC as vehicle to personal enrichment and those who don’t. He argues that the split could come after the ANC national conference in 2017, still five years away.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid