ANC Centenary: A compromised opportunity to share ANC heritage

Posted on February 1, 2012

The ANC is an African Liberation Movement that was established through pain, hardship, suffering and tears that were calling for African unity. Men of goodwill realised that no total freedom can be achieved if African people themselves were treating each other with suspicion, and no African unity can be realised if ethnicity was taking centre stage in the fight against imperialism and racism. Hence unity beyond ethnic blood and boundaries was fundamental in the achievement of a common purpose.

Pixley ka Isaka Seme made it clear when he confronted this national challenge facing Africans in particular, that 'The demon of racialism, the aberration of Xhosa-Fingo feud, the animosity that exists between the Zulus and the Tongaas, between the Basutos and every other Native must be buried and forgotten; it has shed sufficient blood! We are one people. These divisions, these jealousies, are the cause of all our woes and all of our backwardness and ignorance.'

This was a straightforward confrontation of ethnicity and deconstruction of ethnographic stereotypes and myths created through colonial lenses about Africans in general. It was a daylight undressing of the colonial misconceptions and constructions of Africans by colonial institutions. The call of Seme was a consolidation of a call for African unity that dated back as far as 1908. This was a period that was marked by a quest for unity and common purpose, an era to mobilise Africans under one roof and political home throughout the country. Hence it 'culminated in a South African Native Convention [which] was held in Bloemfontein from 24 to 26 March, 1909'.

The Bloemfontein conference of 1909 that gave birth to the South African Native Convention was not sufficient to usher in the kind of African unity that was needed to confront the colonial and imperial hegemony. Hence, in 1910, in Bloemfontein another conference was held and it showed that the question of unity amongst Africans was long debated, as far back as in 1909, when Sol Plaatjie was going up and down the country dismantling ethnicity and regional differences and rivalry amongst Africans which was a threat to African unity too.

The humility, mutual understanding, and constructive compromises that defined the quality of debates amongst the African leaders finally gave birth to the new and final name, which was the South African Native National Congress, which later became known as the African National Congress (ANC) on 8 January, 1912 in Bloemfontein.

The naming of the new organisation was never immune from robust internal debates and disagreements that always characterised a moving thought of the organisation. From being South African Native Convention to South African Native National Congress, to the proposition of new indigenous name like 'Imbizo Yabantu' was a reflection of deep thinking and constructive compromises that defined a quest for unity and a search for African soul that was languishing in political wilderness.

The birth of the 'South African Native National Congress (SANNC) the ANC`s predecessor' [1]on 8 January, 1912 in Bloemfontein 'signified not only of the ANC but also of the nation - the ANC was assigned the task of being in the process of national rebirth and regeneration…one of their greatest contributions to our struggle nevertheless remains: by forming the ANC, they established African political opinion as an autonomous factor in its own right in South Africa.'

The establishment of African opinion by the founding fathers of the ANC left us with a legacy that clearly tells us that the ANC was and still is a broad social and political movement of the people, irrespective of class, creed, cultural background and religion established through debates and compromises and collective leadership.

It is equally important therefore to note that the ANC is a product of long heated debates, discussions and uncommon valour of men who 'displayed great vision and laid a broad foundation on which to build the superstructure for African freedom and liberty in the land of their forefathers'.

Thus, a good justification to immortalise the sacrifices, triumphs, difficulties, discouragement and hardship that the founders of the ANC had to endure in the quest for African unity and freedom. Hence it is appropriate to honour them beyond any reasonable doubt through the ANC centenary that is planned starting from 8 January, 2012 and throughout the year of 2012.

The preamble of the ANC Centenary 1912-2012: Project Concept Document 2010 states clearly that 'on 8 January, 2012, the African National Congress will be a hundred years old. This is a historic achievement for our movement, our people, our continent and the world…the centenary is at first and foremost a milestone achievement of the ANC, as a liberation movement. It should therefore seek to celebrate our proud traditions, values and principles that earned our movement an indelible place in the hearts, psyche and soul of our people.'

This is the only comprehensive document I ever interacted with that seeks to explain to the members of the broad church and people of South Africa why it is important for the ANC to celebrate its earned 100 years of existence and the African history of struggle for liberation in South Africa. The document goes beyond to explain the whole politically charged project even to those who don’t identify themselves with the ideology of the ANC, so that they may buy in to the master narrative of the dominant ideology of the ANC.

One will remember that because the ANC is serving the national interests, it will always continue to proceed from a premise that unites the people of this country. And because of that historic approach 'The ANC has a great impact in our society ... [with a historic mission] to unite all the people of South Africa.' This is how people of South Africa should perceive the ANC centenary - as a national concerted effort to unite all the people of this country irrespective of race, creed, colour and culture and political persuasions.

When the ANC is adopting this inclusive approach to its centenary it wants to even appeal to those who are not members of the movement to understand the meaning, significance and value, history, traditions, principles and political philosophy broadly shared by ANC. The inclusive and broad approach of the ANC to the centenary is a fulfillment of the promise as inscribed on the ANC founding document that 'We the people of South Africa…believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it.'

Hence the ANC centenary is conceptualised and shaped in a way that will benefit all the people of South Africa and not 'Africans in particular' because the shared heritage and history of the ANC must be made to benefit even those who are still skeptical of a country run by Africans themselves.

This implies that a centenary of this nature must be seen as a space to educate South Africans about the significance of unity in diversity, principles of justice, equality before the law, eradication of racism, uprooting of poverty and corruption and respect for law. All these are sensitive issues which know no political persuasion, that is, they are not issues that are confronting ANC members only, but they present themselves as a challenge to all South Africans, irrespective of political persuasions. This is a call to the ANC that as much as the centenary will be celebratory, it should be a critical platform to address sensitive issues that affect South African people, like the lack of unity, crime, poverty, inequality and etc.

The same document further emphasises that '[the centenary] should reflect the ANC in all its facets and dimensions, for example, mass mobilisation, the underground and international solidarity.' [3] Now by implication the year 2012 will be a year for the whole nation of South Africa to understand what groups constituted the ANC and how they related to one another without contestations. It will be a year to understand closely what the ANC stood for since its inception as a national liberation movement of South Africa.

The words of the president of ANC, Mr Jacob Zuma, capture appropriately this imagined mass congregation when he says 'Without the visionary leadership of the ANC, and sacrifices of the mass of our people, South Africa would not be the country it is today.' [4] This a heartfelt tribute to the leadership of the ANC, masses of our people who sacrificed their lives one way or another to attain freedom in the land of their birth. The president defines the spirit in which the centenary must be approached and ushered to the people of South Africa.

The imagined members of the South African nation will now be made to understand the values, collective culture and bonds that kept the ANC together, whilst other South African liberation movements shattered down in pursuit of liberation struggle. Hence it is emphasised that the centenary will be a national, continental and international platform to celebrate the 'proud traditions, values and principles that earned our movement as indelible place in the hearts, psyche and soul of our people'. [5]

The centenary of the ANC must be looked at as an opportunity to share the ANC's heritage and to understand the proud intellectual traditions that made ANC become a body of critical knowledge consumed even by the most radical critics. When I refer to the proud intellectual traditions and ANC as a body of critical knowledge, I refer to the political knowledge production, critical intellectual debates, and discussions that characterised and shaped the ANC all these years.

All these have resulted in the ANC not to be seen just as a liberation movement with political and intellectual bankruptcy, but as a serious African intellectual hub on issues of liberation in the region and the continent.

The ANC centenary should not be confounded with the ANC being in government. However we need to admit that ANC has many layers of contested heritage that may be fraught with contradictions. But for the centenary the focus should be on shared and united ANC 'heritages' that will remind us that the 'ANC was born out of the desire of a proud people that sought dignity and justice in the land of their birth.' [6] It will be about the celebration of that desire for freedom and promotion of dignity and justice that we have earned through the struggle sacrifices and hardships endured by the ANC leaders.

Hence it will be important that the centenary be like a reincarnation of the people`s struggles against apartheid so that people, in particular the victims of institutionalised racism, may fully participate in the renewal of their commitment to establish a free, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.

When I advocate the reincarnation of the people`s struggle against apartheid, I do not mean the ANC centenary should alienate people who never identified with the ANC during the dark times, but the reincarnation should win more hearts and minds for the ANC to remain as a liberation movement that will be a political home for the next posterity. It has been a beacon of hope for many during the challenging times, and today it has become a comforter and a cushion to usher the people of South Africa to a promised land.

However I am not sure whatthe expectations of the majority of people in South Africa will be, but I am confident that people of South Africa, through the centenary celebrations as a platform of engagement, will come to understand that the ANC's historic mission was and remains to give expression to these desires [dignity and justice] of the majority of South Africans. [That] it led their peaceful protests, and when the avenues for such protest were closed, it took up arms to achieve the same objectives.[7]

The question is, what liberation or struggle songs shall we sing when the mother of all African liberation movements in Africa is turning hundred years old? What words of wisdom shall we lend our ears to when our leaders are invoking the spirit of the ANC, what liberation slogans shall be shouted on those days, what stanzas of liberation poetry shall be read out and what kind of liberation classics shall we read? These are all critical questions in the light of the fact that in our promised land they are still crucifying us for singing songs that liberated us from the bondage of racism and oppression. In a way, the justice system that was created by the ANC is forcing us to suffer from deliberate liberation amnesia, and surely the oral history as a discipline will see its own day in court.

Let me end this moment of reflection on the ANC centenary by reading the poem of Keorapetse Kgositsile, a people`s poet and intellectual of the movement titled Manifesto, when he says;

This then is our choice and task
Change is going to come

Yes Mandela we shall be moved and move
We are Man enough to immortalise your song
We are Man enough to root out the predators
Who traded in the human spirit
For black cargoes and material super profits
We emerge to sing a song of Fire and Love

We emerge to prove again life cannot be enslaved
In chains or imprisoned in an island inferno
We emerge to stand life on her multiple feet
Across the face of the earth

And let no choleric charlatan tell you
It be by chance
Our voice in unison with our poet`s proudly says

Even if the will of nature can take its course on the life Nelson Mandela, his name and deeds will be like a scent spread in all directions by wind. It will be a centenary to invoke the spirit of ANC pioneers, and later Oliver Tambo, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu and all the stalwarts of the ANC who 'reinforced the ANC as the vanguard of this country, South Africa'. [9]

8 January, 2012 and onwards will be like a fireplace where all the teachers will be teaching their disciples new wisdom and preaching the liberation gospel to converts, and narrating stories of liberation to youth and children of the movement. These will be days when everyone will find solace in the words of former President of the ANC, Thabo Mbeki when he says;



'Whatever the difficulties, Africa shall be at peace!

However improbable difficulties it may sound to the skeptics, Africa will prosper!

Whoever we may be, whatever our immediate interest, however much we carry baggage from our past, however much we have caught by the fashion of cynicism and loss of faith in the capacity of the people, let us err today and say - nothing can stop us now!'

This is how the heritage of the ANC on 8 January, 2012 and onwards may and can be shared with all those peace-loving South Africans and people of the world.

It will be befitting to sing 'Lizalise idinga Lakho' of Tiyo Soga throughout the year of 2012 and invoke the spirit of Enoch Sontonga by singing 'Nkosi Sikelela i-Afrika'. As our ancestors and forefathers did when they sang the song of Rev John Knox Bokwe's Give a 'Thought to Africa' in concluding the ANC conference of ... We shall do likewise to conclude sharing the ANC heritage collectively in 2012. This implies the life blood of the ANC is in the promotion of unity, healthy debates and in the cultivation of a conducive environment for the internal debates to thrive than be stifled.

One critical question that is waiting to be responded to and that is, I wonder if the ANC do understand the significance of celebrating a centenary whilst some of them are still preoccupied with contestations for leadership? It is true that the ANC centenary is celebrated at the wrong time in the history of the ANC, that is when the very same ANC is grappling with its own internal challenges on issues of discipline, leadership contestations and mistrust and broad lack of unity. This leaves us with no opportunity to celebrate the ANC heritage, culture and history because our leaders seem to lead their way to political wilderness and unprecedented mistrust amongst themselves.

All these political shortcomings are compromising the ANC centenary to the point that our people see no need to be bused to the glamorous stadiums when the same leaders are not living up to the true uniting values of ANC. At a time when the ANC centenary supposed to be made to belong to all those who are members of the ANC and all those who live in South Africa. But some of our leaders want to use it as an instrument to haunt their perceived internal organisational enemies while others want to use it for their own personal glory.

Vuyani Booi is an Archival Platform correspondent. He writes in his personal capacity.


[1] ANC Centenary 1912-2012:Project Concept Document 2010
[2] ibid
[3] ibid
[4] Jacob Zuma
[5] ibid
[6] ANC Centenary 1912-2012:Project Concept Document 2010
[7] ibid
[8] Keorapetse Kgositsile
[9] O.R. Tambo
[10] Thabo Mbeki