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

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

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

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs