Africa's oldest liberation movement celebrated 100 years in power on Sunday. The highlight should have been a speech by ANC leader Jacob Zuma, but while his dancing may have entertained, his words didn’t.
The national anthem sounds in the garage belonging to Noma-Russia Bonase in the Tokoza township, east of Johannesburg. She has transformed her garage into a living room with carpet, chairs and a big TV-cabinet. Neighbours and friends have gathered to watch the ANC’s centenary celebrations together.
Tens of thousands of people sporting the green and gold colors of the African National Congress traveled to Bloemfontein for the 100th anniversary celebrations over the weekend. President Jacob Zuma lit a flame in the Wesleyan church in this city where black intellectuals and activists founded the party in 1912.
The main event of the celebrations was a rally in the soccer stadium and a speech by the president.
The people in the garage in Tokoza didn’t have the means or the desire to travel to Bloemfontein. “I would have wanted to go,” says Conrat Dlamini. “The transport was free but I didn’t know what I was going to eat while there. I don’t have a job.” Bonase decided not to go as she could listen to the speech much better from the front row of her own garage than in the packed stadium.
The 44-year-old mother of five wants to hear from Zuma what he will do to make her and her family’s lives better. She is an active member of the Khulumani Support Group that was formed by survivors and families of victims of apartheid. She plans to analyze Zuma’s words at their next discussion meeting and makes notes with a pencil as he speaks.
And while South Africa celebrates what the ANC has done for them in the past, this is also a time to reflect on the present and the future. Many South Africans say the party hasn't delivered on its promises since taking power in post-apartheid South Africa in 1994. There has been some economic growth but many people still live in shacks and the gap between rich and poor is growing.
Failure to deliver?
Heidi Holland who just finished writing her book 100 years of struggle, Mandela’s ANC feels it is very difficult for a liberation movement to morph into a government. “You can see symptoms of the old liberation movement in the ANC all the time,” she says in her garden in Johannesburg. “We can see the signs of autocratic rule instincts in what is supposed to be a liberated democracy.”
She says the failure to deliver comes partly from operating with a civil service of unqualified people; a legacy of the poor education of black South Africans during apartheid. But she also sees a lack of will. “Delivery requires hard work and dedicated people. They really don’t care enough to do it I think.”
Future, not past
Zuma is known for good dancing, not for his entertaining speeches. Half of the viewers leave the garage during his speech to take a stroll in the dusty road in front of the house. “He is telling us the history,” Bonase says annoyed. “We know the history. Now we want a plan for how they are going to transform our lives in the future. I am giving the ANC a red card.”
Zuma did acknowledge the problems confronting the ANC, saying it needs to ‘defeat the demon of factionalism’ and to take ‘urgent and practical steps to restore the core values, stamp out factionalism and promote political discipline.’ But Holland says we have heard these words before without action.
This is an important political year for the party which is due to choose a new political leader at the end of 2012. The party is riven by divisions and Zuma will have to focus on unifying the factions if he wants to be re-elected. Whoever is leader of the ANC will inevitably be the next president of the country. Even thought the ANC may disappoint it will stay in power. Both Dlamini and Bonase vote ANC.
The continuing support for the ANC is partly because of its liberation-struggle credentials; but also because there isn’t really an alternative black South African voters feel at home with. For a younger generation of voters, history might not weigh so heavily. A 16-year old girl who lives across the street from Bonase says she will evaluate how the ANC does in the coming years before she decides whom to vote for. “I think I look at it differently I didn’t suffer the pain that they suffered. If the ANC does a good job I will vote for them but if it is another party I vote for them.”