CHEERS: Women from Bloemfontein prepare celebratory beer. Picture. TSHEPO KEKANA
A look back at the ANC’s history in the last century shows it has evolved with the times hence it remains a force to be reckoned with. The party has distinguished itself as one of the world’s most resilient political formations.
Formed on January 8, 1912, at the small Wesleyan Church in the former black township of Waaihoek in Bloemfontein, it made an indelible mark on the South African political landscape. It largely drew its strength from being embraced across the board including by traditional and religious leaders.
The oppressed sections of society saw it as a tool to reverse many years of disenfranchisement and dispossession of land by the colonial powers.
On Sunday, many political figures linked to the ANC, including traditional leaders and priests, will retrace the footsteps of their predecessors gathered at a small 100-seater church in Bloemfontein to form the South African National Native Congress, which was later renamed the ANC.
Going through archived speeches of ANC leaders shows that they were a special group of people who, despite their education, were prepared to sacrifice for the struggle. They risked life and limb in order for all people in South Africa to be treated equally.
Apart from being the founding president of the ANC, John Langalibalele Dube is credited with the establishment of Ilanga newspaper, a Zulu publication still in print today. He further founded the Ohlange Institute, a prominent school in Inanda township outside Durban, which has produced many key players, including leaders of the ANC today.
ANC leaders sought to fight and reverse the land dispossession of black people. They made it their task to scout for pieces of land which were being sold. They bought and then resold the land to blacks.
All across the country, especially in Mpumalanga, North West, Limpopo, KZN and the Cape provinces, there are still communities that exist today on land that was procured by ANC leaders. Former ANC president Pixley ka Seme is highly regarded in villages such as Driefontein, Daggakraal and KwaNgema in Mpumalanga, which he procured for peasant farmers. Most of these communities still exist today.
The 1913 Land Act prevented Africans from buying, renting or using land, except in designated native reserves. Being formed under such restrictive and draconian laws was clearly going to present serious challenges to an organisation like the ANC seeking to oppose white minority rule.
In the 1920s laws barring blacks from holding semi-skilled jobs and requiring blacks to carry passes were passed.
The ANC, under all the hardship its people faced, sought to unite the country and totally denounced tribalism and discrimination of any kind.
In the 1940s, the more militant ANC Youth League was formed. The party expanded its alliance networks and established working relations with other anti-establishment formations including the Natal Indian Congress and the South African Coloured People’s Organisation.
Already it was in alliance with the Communist Party of South Africa.
Its youth leaders, Nelson Mandela, Anton Lembede, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo among others, had a much broader view of the situation and insisted the party needed to be a mass-based formation. A much more focused mass defiance campaign was ushered in, targeting laws such as the Group Areas Act, Bantu Education Act and the pass laws.
Another important milestones in the life of the ANC was the convening of the Congress of the People in Kliptown, Soweto, in 1955 where the Freedom Charter was adopted. The country’s Constitution today is to a large extent an expression of the values espoused in the charter.
The darkest period for South Africans who had pinned their hopes on the ANC was the 1960s. The party was banned – a move sent its leaders and supporters into exile. Prominent other leaders including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Andrew Mlangeni, Elias Motsoaledi, Raymond Mhlaba and Govan Mbeki were sentenced to life imprisonment.
But more was to come. The 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s were the most turbulent and deadly in South African politics. There was the Soweto uprising in 1976 to protest the government’s intention to make Afrikaans a compulsory medium of instruction in black schools. It is believed that more than 1000 people, mainly pupils, died in the uprising.
In the ’80s, the United Democratic Front (UDF) and Cosatu were formed. Large parts of the country were in flames, and the smell of teargas and sight of billowing smoke became defining characteristics of black townships.
There was also the violence between the UDF and its detractors, such as Inkatha in KwaZulu-Natal, Imbokodo in the former KwaNdebele, the Three Million Gang in Northern Cape and Free State, and the wit doeke in the Western Cape.
Meanwhile, the country’s neighbours or the frontline states that hosted the ANC were constantly being raided by apartheid forces.
But as the saying goes; united people shall never be defeated. The ANC was eventually unbanned on February 2, 1990, sparking scenes of jubilation across the country. However, this was soon replaced by anxiety because of the violence that followed that event. This violence lasted for four years until the first democratic election in 1994.