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South Africa’s Century-Old ANC Vows to Quash Internal Rifts

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress pledged to quash a divisive battle over leadership posts as the continent’s oldest political party celebrated its 100th anniversary.

The ANC will take measures to strengthen party discipline and seek an end to tension between opposing factions, it said in an annual policy statement released yesterday at a rally in Bloemfontein in the central Free State Province, where the party was created in 1912.

The ANC has won every election with more than 60 percent of the ballots since the end of apartheid and first all-race vote in 1994 and has added to its support by giving welfare grants to a third of the population and increasing access to water and electricity. The party’s unity has been undermined by the decision of its Youth League, led by Julius Malema, to switch its support from President Jacob Zuma to his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, ahead of party elections in December.

“We shall combine political education with effective organizational measures and mechanisms to promote integrity, political discipline and ethical conduct and defeat the demon of factionalism,” the ANC said in its statement.

Malema, 30, who is fighting his suspension from the party, is lobbying the ANC to nationalize mines and banks. Zuma has said nationalization is the subject of a debate within the party and isn’t government policy.

Mineral Wealth

London-based Anglo American Plc, Australia’s BHP Billito Ltd. and Xstrata Plc of Zug, Switzerland, own mines in South Africa, the world’s biggest producer of platinum and chrome. Citigroup Inc. in April 2010 valued the country’s mineral resources at $2.5 trillion, the most of any nation.

Zuma, 69, is under pressure from labor unions, the Youth League and the public to boost jobs in an economy where one in four people is without work. The National Treasury estimates gross domestic product needs to expand 7 percent a year, more than double this year’s expected rate, to cut the unemployment rate to 14 percent by 2020.

“The ANC managed to unite us as a nation,” Foster Makhubela, 45, an English teacher who attended yesterday’s centenary celebrations in Mangaung. “When it comes to elections people vote for the ANC because there are no alternatives. The ANC accepts that it has failed on some fronts.”

‘Solid Foundation’

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, which changed its name to ANC in 1923, was banned in 1960. Most of its leadership was arrested, including Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison, while others such as former ANC President Oliver Tambo went into exile.

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 laid a sound foundation for socio-economic development, although challenges remain,” Zuma said in a speech delivered at a 45,000-seat sports stadium filled with supporters wearing the party’s colors of green, black and gold. “We must bring new energy and new ideas into the kind of society we want to build over the next few decades.”

Zuma’s address was devoid of any new ideas to tackle the country’s problems and did little to advance his chances of being re-elected, Business Day, the country’s main business newspaper, said in an editorial today.

‘Daunting Year’ Ahead

“It was an awful dreary speech, made by a man who has never gotten on top of his main job of leading the country and who faces a daunting year, both at the head of his government and in his party,” the Johannesburg-based newspaper said.

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 that 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.

“In certain areas we have lost the attention of the masses, without a doubt,” Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale said in an interview in Bloemfontein yesterday. “It is important we use this opportunity to reconnect with the people. The ANC is still powerful, but it has been more powerful and can be more powerful.”

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