South Africa’s ruling African National Congress celebrated its 100th anniversary today, maintaining its grip on power in Africa’s largest economy, while battling internal rifts over leadership posts.
The occasion was marked with a rally at a packed 45,000-seat sports stadium in Bloemfontein, in the central Free State Province, where the party was created in 1912. President Jacob Zuma recounted the party’s history in a speech that lasted more than an hour.
“The ANC has laid a sound foundation for socio-economic development, although challenges remain,” Zuma said. “We must bring new energy and new ideas into the kind of society we want to build over the next few decades.”
Africa’s oldest political movement led the fight against white segregationist rule, securing it the loyalty of the country’s black majority, who make up 90 percent of the population. The ANC has locked-in supporters since winning the first all-race elections in 1994 by giving welfare grants to more than 15 million people, about a third of the population, and increasing access to water and electricity.
“The ANC has done everything for me,” said Agnes Motseki, 68, one of hundreds of women attending today’s rally in green party blouses. “Our children have grants, we have houses and electricity. Everything is very good for us. I’m ANC until I die. We want the ANC for another 100 years.”
The party has more than 1 million signed-up members and won 65.9 percent of the vote in the last national elections in 2009. Its nearest rival, the Democratic Alliance led by Helen Zille, won 16.7 percent.
“The ANC has got no competition,” Zwelethu Jolobe, a political analyst at the University of Cape Town, said in a phone interview. “While the party is divided along factional lines, a lot of people don’t see life outside the ANC.”
The party’s dominance masks internal rifts undermining unity in the ANC ahead of party elections in December. The ANC’s Youth League, which is lobbying for the nationalization of the country’s mines and banks, is campaigning for Zuma to be replaced by his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe. Youth League leader Julius Malema, who is fighting his suspension from the party, ridiculed Zuma in songs at an ANC rally in his home province of Limpopo last month.
‘Demon of Factionalism’
Rival chants in support of the two leaders were shouted at the start of today’s rally, ceasing as proceedings got under way. Malema, who sat on the stage alongside other ANC leaders, drew loud cheers when he appeared on giant screens.
“We are determined to enhance the party’s moral standing and image among the masses of our people,” the ANC said in its annual policy statement released today. The party will “defeat the demon of factionalism in the ranks of the ANC.”
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Rwandan leader Paul Kagame and Zambia’s Michael Sata were among heads of state present at a gala dinner yesterday, praising the ANC as a beacon for other liberation movements across the continent.
The South African Native National Convention was formed in 1912, uniting tribal chiefs, black leaders, churches and civil rights groups in the fight for the rights of blacks. The group changed its name to ANC in 1923.
The movement mounted campaigns against laws that forced blacks from their land and compelled them to carry permits to enter areas reserved for whites. The ANC was banned in 1960 and began a campaign of sabotage against government targets the next year. Most of its leadership was arrested, including Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison, or went into exile, like former ANC President Oliver Tambo.
‘Beacon for the World’
Popular resistance to apartheid and economic sanctions forced the white government to the negotiating table and the ANC was legalized in 1990. It took power under Mandela four years later, winning 62.6 percent of the vote.
The ANC “has been a beacon for the world in the fight against discrimination and the struggle for freedom from oppression,” U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said in a letter to Zuma, according to a copy on the government’s website. “It is incredible to see the changes in South Africa that the ANC has helped to bring about.”
Party unity began to erode in December 2007, when Zuma won control of the ANC from Thabo Mbeki, Mandela’s successor, with backing from the unions and the Youth League. Mbeki was ousted as president of the country in 2008 after a judge suggested in a court ruling he pressured prosecutors to pursue corruption charges against Zuma.
A group of Mbeki’s allies, led by former ANC Chairman Mosiuoa Lekota, then quit the ANC to form a rival party, Congress of the People. Zuma was appointed president of the country in May 2009.