South Africa’s African National Congress Celebrates 100 Years

After 100 years, the ANC has much to celebrate and also, much work to do.

Posted: 01/05/2012 11:00 AM EST

South Africa is gearing up for the 100-year birthday bash of its beloved African National Congress this weekend and amid the celebratory recognitions of accomplishment are sobering reminders that both the party and the nation still have a long way to go.

The ANC was formed on Jan. 8, 1912, amid a social and political system of colonial, racial oppression and segregation called apartheid, with the goal of liberating the country’s Black citizens from the oppressive, white government rule. In the end, the ANC did not simply succeed in its goal of dissolving apartheid, but has consistently been the only political party to rule the country since a total democracy was adopted in 1994.

Estimates say that more than 100,000 are expected to attend the centenary festivities. The count includes 46 current heads of state and several other dignitaries and former leaders, but the ANC is unsure whether its superstar member Nelson Mandela will be able to make it to the celebrations. Mandela, 93, was hospitalized last year for a respiratory infection and has since been maintaining his privacy at his new home in his old village of Qunu.

But as the old guard seemingly looks forward to a reunion this weekend, the party has much work to complete in order to meet the demands of today’s South Africa.

Reports say that the celebrations will cost the country nearly $100 million to produce at a time when unemployment has reached 36 percent overall and up to 70 percent among young people. And with half of the population subsisting off of just 8 percent of the national income, it appears that the country’s economic problems are in need of serious attention.

"It's all a big waste, and it is almost like they [the ANC] are showing off. It is a lot of expenditure for nothing. Come to the townships, I will show you where they need to spend their money," resident Shaun Kelly told The New York Times.

In addition to the financial worries, the party’s internal squabbles have made international headlines lately, giving the appearance of deeper discontent — especially among the party’s youth members.

"We would like to think it (the ANC) has teething problems, but it's not really only teething problems," Amina Cachalia, a political activist who joined the ANC in the 1940s, told the Associated Press. "I think suddenly it's become a different platform for different ideologies and for different people with different agendas, and that's a pity, a great pity."

Party outcast and leader of the ANC Youth League Julius Malema was denied the opportunity to make an address at the centenary events after he was formally suspended from the party for five years for “sowing division” and “bringing the party into disrepute.” Since taking the position as Youth League leader, Malema has been involved with a number of scandals including, most recently, being sued by a group of white South Africans for promoting a apartheid-era freedom song that the court ruled hate speech and his involvement in supporting regime change in Botswana. Malema is currently still holding his post as youth leader while he awaits an appeal of his suspension.

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(Photo: ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images)

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