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S.Africa’s ANC in centenary show of force amid divisions

Published on 08/01/2012

Tens of thousands of South Africans joined the ANC's huge centennial bash in Bloemfontein Sunday, dancing and singing for the party that freed them from apartheid and gave them homes.

Janet Leshilo, 68, slept outside to join a rally of African National Congress supporters in a wash of party colours as well as images of heroes like Nelson Mandela and new blood like controversial youth leader Julius Malema.

“Since we came at midnight, we slept here by the gate waiting for this day because we are so happy,” said ANC Womens’ League member Leshilo, who travelled from Pretoria.

“We’ve got free water, free houses, because of the ANC,” added fellow womens’ league member 65-year-old Mathabo Mokwena, of Bloemfontein, referring to the huge gains in basic services nearly 18 years after the party ended white-minority rule.

The ANC put on a glitzy weekend show of its overwhelming dominance in South African politics more than 50 years after it was banned by the racist white regime and forced underground to fight for all-race liberation.

Johannesburg scientist Benjamin Mogoyo sat in the blistering heat among tens of thousands of supporters in a sea of ANC colours with a coolbox filled with ice, fizzy drinks, fruit juice and food.

“This is just a microcrosm of the ANC. This is just a small reflection of the bigger picture of how much the people of South Africa love the ANC. It’s just a small drop in the ocean,” he said.

“I think the central message for today is that of consolidating unity within the country but as well as entrenching and promoting diversity,” he added, saying he was happy with President Jacob Zuma’s leadership.

“When he speaks, he speaks like a president of the people because he understands the problems of the people on the ground because he himself is also on the ground. He remains in touch with the people.”

But Zuma is locked in a long battle with ANC enfant terrible Julius Malema, the party’s youth leader who sees himself as a voice of the millions still waiting for basics like housing and electricity and who wants Zuma’s place in party elections later this year.

The divisions were on clear display.

Zuma arrived to huge cheers and song in his name but also opposition. One supporter clad in a Zuma t-shirt cheered just a metre away from someone with a “100% Malema” T-shirt who was calling for his removal.

A few mocking hand “shower” movements were also in the crowd, taking a dig at Zuma’s 2006 rape trial, for which he was acquitted, in which he testified that he had showered after sex with an HIV-positive woman to lower the risk of infection.

Malema was met with roars of approval.

Self-styled as the voice of South Africa’s sidelined poor blacks with attacks on the rich that provoke both delight and outrage, Malema has capitalised on the party’s failure to roll out democratic gains to the all.

Youth league member Tefo Lebaka, 28, said the party had put on a show of solidarity for the celebrations which included a golf tournament, ritual animal slaughter and a glam gala dinner with heads of state.

“But I believe after this event, there is going to be a big division,” he told AFP, predicting a show-down between Zuma and his deputy Kgalema Motlanthe.

“It’s a leadership division because we are facing a national congress.”

Mine shift boss Tumane Matela of Klerksdorp, around 200 kilometres (120 miles) from Bloemfontein, was reminded of the party’s struggles when a group in wheelchairs were rolled onto the field.

“I think today there are no factions, there are no camps. Everybody would like to see the ANC he loves: an ANC that’s got no factions, no colour and no tribalism,” he said.