South Africa's ruling ANC celebrates 100 years

2nd January 2012, Comments 0 comments

South Africa's ruling ANC marks its 100th anniversary this week with a huge celebration attended by dozens of heads of state and buoyed by an unbroken 17 years in power since the end of apartheid.

More than 100,000 people are expected in the central city of Bloemfontein, where the South African Native National Congress was founded on January 8, 1912. It was renamed the African National Congress in 1923.

South African President Jacob Zuma will pay tribute to Nelson Mandela and other heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle in a speech at the city's football stadium wrapping up three days of festivities on Sunday.

The celebrations include a traditional ceremony, a golf tournament, concerts and gala dinner. Zuma is also expected to light a centenary flame, which will tour South Africa as a symbol of the resistance against apartheid.

A Sunday service will be held in the Wesleyan church building where the movement was born. The South African post office will also release a commemorative stamp to celebrate Africa's oldest liberation movement.

The guest list has not been made public, but the party has said it invited comrades that helped its struggle against white minority rule. Representatives of Scandinavian anti-apartheid movements and of India's ruling Congress Party are expected, as well as dignitaries of the countries that supported the ANC in exile from South Africa from 1960 to 1990.

"They are coming to South Africa to congratulate not just the ruling party, but all South Africans on the strides that the country and its people have made in destroying colonial oppression and apartheid, and promoting reconciliation and nation building," Zuma said in his New Year address.

But critics have voiced concerns about the ANC's stranglehold on parliament -- where it holds 264 of the 400 seats -- and its bucking against the constraints the law imposes on its powers.

However, unlike many African liberation movements which came to power before it, the ANC has generally resisted becoming an authoritarian government.

In the southern African region, Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia have suffered under one-party regimes imposed by independence leaders, though most later allowed multi-party democracy.

Meanwhile, the neighbouring Zimbabwe liberation movement of President Robert Mugabe, ZANU-PF, has left little freedom to opposition parties, even as it shares power in a unity government following disputed 2008 polls.

Ever the loyal friend, the ANC maintained strong links with its brothers in arms with dubious democratic records like Libya's Moamer Kadhafi, while back home Nelson Mandela's party installed one of the most liberal constitutions in the world after sweeping to a historic victory in South Africa's first free elections in 1994. Twelve other parties are represented in Parliament, and the country enjoys independent courts and a free and vocal media.

But Zuma has come in for criticism for placing political allies in influential posts in state prosecuting authorities and the president has several times warned the judiciary from hampering the work of government.

A recent law allowing for journalists to be jailed for up to 25 years for publishing classified information has soured relations with the media.

The law defines classification vaguely, leaving the media worried about prosecution if it continues exposing corruption scandals that regularly taint the ANC and its ministers.

The ANC's sheer size means internal dissension becomes a national issue as a diverse membership seesaws between liberal policies and Marxist tendencies.

Some of Zuma's lieutenants have plotted against him, and he has been openly challenged by the ANC Youth League under the firebrand leadership of Julius Malema. The party suspended Malema for ill-discipline in November, but he has appealed the decision.

The centenary festivities effectively are a preview of the party's next leadership conference in December. Zuma hopes to win a second term as ANC head, which will enable him to stay on as state president after 2014 general elections.

© 2012 AFP

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