Africa’s oldest liberation struggle movement and South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), has turned 100 years old.
Thousands of people descended on the quiet Free State province to the city of Mangaung, also known as Bloemfontein, to celebrate the party’s existence since 8 January 1912.
The celebrations were attended by former heads of state, current leaders, the party’s political elite, and throngs of ordinary citizens.
Those in attendance included former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda; Ugandan president Yuweri Museveni; Namibian president Hifikepunye Pohamba; Mozambican president Armando Guebuza; and Rev Jesse Jackson from the US.
“Let’s congratulate South Africa for a job well done on their freedom. The ANC brought this country’s people into a new dawn,” said Kaunda.
Museveni labelled the ANC’s centenary as an “achievement for the entire African continent.”
The motto for the celebrations is Unity in Diversity – also South Africa’s national motto – and the party truly displayed this sentiment after being plagued with faction fighting over the past year, especially with its youth wing.
But it showed a united front throughout the weekend of festivities.
Former ANC and South African president Thabo Mbeki was seen laughing heartily with the incumbent president Jacob Zuma and suspended ANC Youth League president Julius Malema.
Zuma said: “We continue to have different and differing perspectives on the processes unfolding in our country. Despite the progress we have made, there remain deep fault lines in our society that continue to undermine our vision of a united, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.”
Nobel Peace laureate and the country’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, was there in spirit although not in person.
Attendees were reminded of the elder statesman’s contribution to democracy by the many posters of him, and other former presidents of the party, hung throughout the usually quiet city.
Baleka Mbete, the ANC’s national chairperson, said: “He is in good spirits but very, very old.”
Nobody expected the centenary events to be anything else but pomp and ceremony with nearly R100-million (US$12.4-million) spent to commemorate this achievement.
The celebrations included a golf day; gala dinner; a cow slaughtering ritual to appease the ancestors; a centenary torch lighting ceremony and a rally held at the Free State stadium, which included a concert by some of South Africa’s most prominent artists.
The golfing took place at Schoeman Park golf club in Bloemfontein on 6 January 2011.
ANC stalwart and enthusiastic golfer Andrew Mlangeni opened the celebrations by playing a round of golf with government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi; Justice minister Jeff Radebe; former ANC chief whip Tony Yengeni; former South Africa Broadcasting Corporation chief executive Dali Mpofu; and United Democratic Movement leader and MP Bantu Holomisa.
On 7 January, a cow slaughtering ritual took place at the Waaihoek Wesleyan Church – where the ANC was founded – as part of a cleansing ceremony to thank the ancestors for helping the party reach such a milestone and to ask for guidance in the future.
Luxury cars lined the streets and hymns were sung along with revolutionary songs as dignitaries entered the birthplace of the movement.
Waaihoek Church is where the party’s first president John Dube and his compatriots Sol Plaatjie and Pixley ka Isaka Seme founded the organisation as the South African Native National Congress.
The slaughtering of an animal in most African cultures symbolises a connection with the ancestors to give thanks for blessings received, and to ask for more blessings.
Later that night Zuma lit a centenary torch that will go around the country throughout the year to commemorate the centenary. It was handed over to the Free State leadership of the ANC, who will in turn hand it over to the party’s Western Cape leaders, where the next celebrations will be held.
The torch will make its way back to Bloemfontein when the party holds its national conference in December. Here party members will elect the next round of leaders.
Mbete said the symbolism of the torch “is a poignant reminder of pulling together in one direction”.
On 8 January, thousands gathered at the 48 000-seater Free State Stadium to celebrate. The mood was festive, and the stadium was a sea of yellow, green and black – the party’s colours.
The 40°C temperature could not stop the people from rejoicing as they packed the stadium.
The event opened with the singing of the national anthem and a prayer blessing by the country’s Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein and ANC chaplain-general Vukile Mehana.
President Zuma made a speech and cut a huge cake, and the bottles were popped to toast the centenary.
The rest of the day was about the entertainment of the revellers, who saw performances by singer Zahara, rapper AKA and the 100-year history of the ANC in the form of a play.
Many speakers throughout the weekend praised the ANC and the tributes poured in from as far afield as the UK.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said: “On behalf of the British people, I want to congratulate you and everyone involved with the ANC on this very special anniversary,” in a letter addressed to Zuma.
Leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, Helen Zille, said: “I extend my sincere congratulations to the ANC and its leader, President Zuma, on reaching this impressive milestone.
“These 100 years show an extraordinary record, without parallel on the continent of Africa,” Zille continued. “If the ANC is saying this is much more than a celebration of the 100th birthday of a political party, we agree. It represents a history of progress, a quest for human rights and the advent of democracy after a long, arduous struggle that took over 80 years.”
Kaunda stated that the liberation struggle would not mean anything if the fight against poverty in Africa was not won.
“We have to fight poverty and all its offshoots of hunger, ignorance, disease, crime, corruption and above all, exploitation of one mind by another.”
By: Ray Maota