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South Africa’s African National Congress Celebrates 100th Anniversary

African National Congress supporters cheer before the start of their party's 100th anniversary celebrations in Bloemfontein, South Africa, January 8, 2012.

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, the ANC, has wrapped up a weekend of celebrations to mark the centennial of its founding at Mangaung in the Free State with a rally addressed by President Jacob Zuma.

Jacob Zuma received a rapturous welcome from 40,000 ANC supporters as he arrived at the Free State Stadium in Mangaung, [Bloemfontein] while tens of thousands more watched on large TV screens at several overflow centers in the vicinity.

Zuma spoke for 75 minutes with much of his address devoted to the history of the ANC and its achievements, and highlighted the diverse nature of the organization, particularly since the 1950s.

“This unity across all these divides have strengthened the ANC and brought us to this phase of celebrating 100 years of selfless struggle,” he said.

He spent time remembering all previous ANC presidents from founding president John Dube, through Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki - both of whom received loud ovations from the crowd. Mbeki is making his first appearances at ANC events since 2008, when he was forced by Zuma to resign as president of South Africa.

Zuma also took time to focus on the future, saying South Africa faces three major challenges.

“With regards to the way forward, we have identified the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality as needing attention," he said. "Principally, Africans, women and youth continue to carry a disproportionate burden of the challenges. Over the next decade, both the ANC and all organs of state, shall pay a single-minded and undivided attention in order to overcome these triple challenges.”

Zuma urged South Africans to participate in a national debate on the country’s future, saying the focus should be a common commitment to building a caring, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and united society.

Some analysts note Zuma’s address, with its strong focus on the past and the heroes of that period, suggest he trying to take the ANC back to the era of the 1950s and leaders such as Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela.