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ANC 100

January 6, 2012

The ANC liberated South Africa from minority white rule, but it has undergone a rocky - some would say incomplete - transition from liberation movement to governing party.

Jacob Zuma at an election rally in 2009
Jacob Zuma and his ANC have come under criticismImage: picture-alliance/dpa

'A better life for all' was the African National Congress's slogan at South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994, when the whites-only National Party was swept from power. That slogan now has a rather hollow ring to it – the only South Africans who now enjoy a "better life" are the  three million (out of a nation 49 million) members of the black middle class.

Forty percent of the population live below the poverty line, on less than 50 euros ($ 64) a month. The business empires of ANC freedom fighters such as Tokyo Sexwale or Cyril Ramaphosa, in mining or fast food, are in stark contrast to the poverty suffered by the masses in slums such as Alexandria outside Johannesburg.

It's a well-worn maxim that to succeed in business in South Africa you need an ANC membership card. The party's statutes do indeed equip it with extensive civil rights. For example, half of the members of the powerful National Executive Committee (NEC) have to be women. Even the National Working Committee, tasked with putting the NEC's resolutions into practice, has a female quota of 50 percent.

But that's where internal democracy comes to an abrupt halt. A survey carried out by the South African weekly Mail & Guardian revealed that a third of all members of the National Executive Committee had been convicted on criminal charges or had been investigated on suspicion of criminal activity. In many cases, corruption was involved.

A mother holds her daughter to try to keep warm in what remains of her house that was demolished Johannesburg, South Africa.
Critics of the ANC say it has failed to eradicate poverty and social injusticeImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Yet back in 1994, ANC members (who were still on the United States' list of wanted terrorist suspects until 2008) embarked on an ambitious program of wealth redistribution with the aim of creating jobs and affordable accommodation for the majority black population, who were discriminated against for decades under minority white rule. Almost three million new housing units were built.

But the program was overshadowed by corruption from the very beginning. The policy of affirmative action, under which skin color was given priority over qualifications when filling jobs, had a disastrous impact on government administration and the economy. Jobs were handed out as a reward for services rendered.  

Lack of management skills

Political economist Moeletso Mbeki, the younger brother of ex-President Thabo Mbeki, once said that the old white-dominated administration had been removed and replaced by people who lacked the proper skills and experience.

Mbeki the younger is one of the ANC's fiercest critics. He says the party simply lacks basic management skills. His attacks were so vehement that journalists with state broadcaster SABC were told not to quote him – a somewhat dubious interpretation by freedom fighters of the principle of free speech in a democracy. 

President Jacob Zuma is not the only one who is on a war footing with the press. ANC politicians are only too happy to use the media when battling it out with their opponents inside the party. But when reporters start investigating corruption, they are rather less enthusiastic.              

At the moment party leaders are spending their time attending disciplinary hearings rather than taking part in cabinet meetings. The long-running dispute between the ambitious Julius Malema, President of the ANC Youth League, and  President Jacob Zuma is a severe test of the party's cohesion.

Nelson Mandela, the first ANC president in post-apartheid South Africa
Nelson Mandela was the first ANC president of post-apartheid South AfricaImage: DW/AP

Hein Möller is an expert on South Africa with the German thinktank Information Hub for Southern Africa. He says the ANC has no reason to celebrate this anniversary. Africa's oldest liberation movement, he believes, has lacked credibility since 1996 and the ANC's economic policy is as much a failure as its attempts to correct social injustice.

"South Africa has not created a rainbow nation," he said, echoing the thoughts of many anti-apartheid activists in Europe, who, two decades after the end of white rule, feel they have been denied the just reward for their campaigning.     

'...the opposite of what we were fighting for'

Even more bitter for President Zuma's supporters is the criticism coming from within their own ranks. The late Kader Asmal, a respected intellectual and close associate of Nelson Mandela, left politics in 2008, deeply critical of the draconian Informational Bill, also known as the Secrecy Bill.

The anti-apartheid activist Denis Goldberg also quit politics in 2004. He spent 22 years in prison because of his campaigning activities against minority white rule. "Had I taken up an ANC government post and said 'Let's stop this nonsense,' they would have thrown me out sooner or later,"  he said. He sees the party these days as a "vehicle for getting rich" which was "the opposite of what we were fighting for." 

The first Zulu in a party dominated by the Xhosa, President Jacob Zuma is accused of erratic and self-indulgent leadership. Although he has led South Africa into the BRIC club of nations and has had a modest degree of success as a mediator in crises in Africa, he is becoming a burden to his country. His never-ending extramarital affairs have damaged him politically. He only displays mettle when under pressure, for example, when he dismissed two ministers and the head of police at the end of 2011.

Cartoon in which Nelson Mandela wonders what ANC once stood for. The cartoon says Accumulation, Nepotism, Cronyism.
South African cartoonist's view of the ANC. © 2011-2012 Zapiro (All rights reserved) Printed with permission from www.zapiro.comImage: DW

Zuma once said the ANC would govern until Jesus returns. Many disappointed South Africans may be hoping the Second Coming will arrive before the next 100 years are up.

Author: Ludger Schadomsky / mc
Editor: Susan Houlton / mik

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