S.Africa’s mighty ANC readies for 100-year bash
Africa's oldest liberation movement, South Africa's ruling ANC, celebrates its centenary Sunday with 100,000 people at a rally where President Jacob Zuma hopes to reassert his leadership.
The mass event in the normally sleepy central city of Bloemfontein wraps up weekend celebrations for the African National Congress, which Nelson Mandela led to power after the fall of apartheid.
The splashy celebrations have also given the party a chance to remind the public of its storied legacy, amid deepening frustration at scandals and unfulfilled promises to the poor.
“Heartiest congratulations on achieving a significant milestone, and I pray that they will be true to where they came from,” retired archbishop and anti-apartheid hero Desmond Tutu told the public broadcaster SABC.
The ANC marked its founding on January 8, 1912 with the midnight lighting of a centenary torch that will travel to the rally, where heads of states and foreign supporters are expected.
In his address, Zuma is expected to lay out the party’s path forward as he seeks to rein in divisions ahead of year-end party elections where some of his erstwhile backers are now pushing for his removal.
None of those opposed to him, including fiery youth leader Julius Malema, will be allowed to speak at the rally.
Increasingly frail talisman Mandela, who became South Africa’s first black president in 1994, did not attend the celebrations which reached out to the ANC’s diverse membership with a golf tournament, ritual animal slaughter and concerts.
“It’s hard to describe in words one’s feelings of today. It is almost nostalgic for my daughter and I,” his former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela told SABC.
An inter-faith service at the church where the party was founded 100 years ago launched the bash Sunday, the day after African heads of state paid tribute to the ANC’s inspiration of other liberation movements on the continent.
“When we talk about ANC, it is part of Africa, in particular southern Africa,” said Mozambican President Armando Guebuza, whose country hosted ANC guerrilla camps and fought its own bitter independence war.
“What you did made us proud of being Africans,” he added.
The party also thanked its international supporters with party veteran Ahmed Kathrada, who was jailed alongside Mandela, saying dignity and humanity had been the most important achievement of democracy.
“No longer in South Africa will you see signs: Europeans only, non-Europeans only, non-Europeans and dogs not allowed. All of South Africa is now free. We have won our dignity as human beings.”
In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron on Sunday hailed the ANC as a “beacon for the world” in fighting discrimination and oppression.
“It is incredible to see the changes in South Africa that the ANC has helped to bring about,” wrote Cameron in a letter to Zuma.
But there were also calls to address Africa’s challenges.
“We have to fight poverty and all its offshoots of hunger, ignorance, disease, crime, corruption and above all, exploitation of one mind by another,” said Zambia’s independence hero Kenneth Kaunda who hosted the banned ANC’s headquarters.
Founded to fight discrimination, the ANC was banned by South Africa’s white apartheid rulers in 1960, and its leaders jailed four years later.
Nearly three decades later, the crumbling regime released Mandela, who oversaw the peaceful transition that set the path for huge wins in regular polls ever since.
But South Africans are increasingly frustrated over corruption smears and dashed expectations, with 38 percent of the nation still living in poverty despite the party’s sound economic policy and major gains in providing houses, water and toilets.
Critics say too many people have been left to make do with shoddy public hospitals and schools, a dangerously high joblessness rate of 25 percent, violent crime and a grim life in shantytowns.