08 January 2012

The ANC centenary

The African National Congress, which has ruled South Africa for nearly 18 years, is having a big bash in the Free State to celebrate its centenary.

ANC parties in Bloemfontein | News24:
An ANC centenary torch was lit at midnight in Bloemfontein on Saturday, while party leaders, members, heads of state and guests celebrated until early hours on Sunday.

ANC president Jacob Zuma and Archbishop Desmond Tutu lit the torch at the Wesleyan Church in the company of various party elders including former President Thabo Mbeki and guests. The ANC was founded at the church.

Fourteen heads of state, five former heads of state and four heads of governments in Africa and elsewhere were welcomed at the presidential gala dinner at the Vista campus during the night.

Coming home from Vespers last night we heard Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba speaking on the radio. "We didn't know we were making history, but we were making history," he said.

And history was what it was all about.

At that meeting 100 years ago, history was made -- but who realised it at the time?

Therr or four years before an all-white National Convention was held, which hammered out a racist constitution for South Africa. Those blacks in the Cape Colony who had qualified to vote before Union continued to be able to vote, but the new constitution gave all white males the right to vote. And in 1936 the right of blacks to votes was severely reduced, and in 1960 it was abolished altogether.

When the ANC started, as the then South African Native National Congress, its aim was to reverse that process, and to strive for a society with more equal rights. It was a long, hard and uphill struggle. And it was a struggle in which history was made. And it is good to celebrate it.

For 80 years, from Union in 1910 until 1990, freedoms in South Africa were gradually whittled away, and they weren't all that great to start with. Though for a long time the ANC only had black membership, it fought for freedom for all of us. And that is something worth remembering, and worth throwing a party for.

But I also feel ambivalent about it.

President Pohamba said "We didn't know that we were making history, but we were making history."

And the history is there, though there were bad moments as well as good in it.

But there is also a sense in which history is all it is.

The ANC today is not the ANC of Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, and Nelson Mandela, two of whom won international recognition as Nobel Peace Prize winners. And many people who are involved in the celebrations recognise this, realising that the motives of amy who are joining and seeking office in the ANC today are very different from those who led the organisation before 1994. Back then the dangers were many, and the rewards few.

Well, it is still true today that the dangers are many, but the dangers are different from what they were in the glory days of the treason trial. Today the dangers are of being caught with one's fingers in the till, and for those who are not, the rewards are great too.

So perhaps one can hope that in recalling the history, the current crop of leaders, especially those at provincial and municipal level, will be inspired with something of the vision of the leaders of yesteryear. But I'm not counting on it.

As Lord Acton said, "All power tends to corrupt..."

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