Political Organization Profile: The African National Congress (ANC)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The African National Congress (ANC) led the South African liberation from apartheid, and has dominated the country's politics in the years since. The political party has won every election since the end of apartheid with overwhelming support, turning South Africa into a virtual one-party state.

In April 2009 the party, led by its leader Jacob G. Zuma, won its fourth consecutive electoral victory. Parliament elects the president, but the A.N.C.'s dominance assures that Mr. Zuma will take the oath of office on May 9.

Final results showed that the A.N.C. won the April 22 election with 66 percent of the vote, less than its victory margin in 2004 but an impressive tally nonetheless after a dissident group had broken away to form its own party. The A.N.C. won in eight of South Africa's nine provinces, the only exception being Western Cape, where it lost to the Democratic Alliance, a political sanctuary for the nation's white and mixed-race minorities.

Many now worry about the political future of the nation regarded as the democratic anchor of the continent.

The A.N.C. was formed in 1912 by well-educated, middle-class South African blacks, many of whom studied in American universities. Its initial character was more lawyerly than radical, but the foundation of its Youth League in the 1940s changed the group's focus. New leaders, including Nelson Mandela, favored more militant tactics as they sought to turn the A.N.C. into a mass movement.

The group was banned in the 1960s. A year later, it formed a military wing and began carrying out violent sabotage missions. Mr. Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in 1964 for attempting to overthrow the government.

In 1990 the party was unbanned, and Mr. Mandela was released from prison. Over the next four years Mr. Mandela and the A.N.C. helped lead to the dismantling of apartheid. In 1994 Mr. Mandela became the first president of post-apartheid South Africa.

Mr. Mandela served as president until 1999, when his chosen successor, Thabo Mbeki, took over. By 2007 the A.N.C. faced a potentially crippling leadership struggle. Mr. Zuma, a Zulu politician idolized in the eastern part of the country, ousted Mr. Mbeki for the top job in the party hierarchy. While it seemed that the infighting would leave the A.N.C. vulnerable to a credible rival, breakaway movements never developed to such a level. In 2008 Mr. Mbeki resigned as president, paving the way for Mr. Zuma to succeed him.

Mr. Zuma has had brushes with the law. He was acquitted in a 2006 rape trial. And in April 2009 prosecutors, citing procedural reasons, dropped a corruption case that had dogged him for eight years.

South Africa has a population of 48.7 million, and the poor rightfully credit the A.N.C. with giving them a lift. In 1996, two years after the end of apartheid, only 2.5 million people received government grants. That number is now 13.4 million, with most of the money provided for children.

South Africa has the continent's largest economy, and until the recession it enjoyed 10 consecutive years of growth. But wealth favors the few, and in South Africa the chasm of inequality is among the worst in the world. On average, whites still earn nearly 10 times as much as blacks.

Under apartheid, the school system was deliberately set up to provide nonwhites with inferior instruction, but many experts contend that the schools have worsened rather than improved. The A.N.C. government was slow in providing antiretroviral drugs to AIDS patients, allowing 365,000 South Africans to die prematurely, according to a Harvard University study.

Disappointment runs deep among South Africans. But though people complain about corrupt local officials, they rarely aim their anger at the A.N.C.

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