South Africa

African National Congress


Published 12th May, 2014

The African National Congress or ANC was founded on 8th January 1912, originally as the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) with the aim of increasing the rights of black South African people. Today the party describes itself as Left-wing and believes in African nationalism,
Left-wing nationalism, Social democracy and Democratic socialism.

The SANNC changed its name to ANC in 1923. In 1955 the ANC along with a number of other parties and organisations held a Congress of the People during which the Freedom Charter was agreed which starts with “The People Shall Govern”.

The minority white government claimed that the Charter was a communist document and subsequently arrested a number of leaders. By 1960 demonstrations had grown and in Sharpeville, following a mass youth demonstration, 69 people were killed when the police opened fire. Subsequently the government decided to ban the ANC and a number of other anti-apartheid organisations in 1960; the ban lasted until 1990.

It was at this time that Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and many others were arrested and imprisoned. The movement continued but it went underground and in 1961 the ANC formed a military wing, the Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation).

From there the violence escalated and the 1970s saw a period of intense guerrilla attacks by the ANC and other armed groups with the government forces responding in kind, including carrying out counter-insurgency operations on ‘liberation camps’ in neighbouring countries.

Although the ANC had taken a military approach it always made it clear that it was open to a negotiated settlement. In 1989 the ANC stated that negotiations could only be carried out in a free political climate and soon after President F.W. de Clerk instructed the release of Walter Sisulu and then Nelson Mandela. Behind the scenes de Clerk and Mandela had been negotiating and bit by bit the legislation which provided the framework for apartheid was removed and the ANC started the transformation into a political party.

Whilst this was happening multi-party negotiations were taking place between 1991 and 1993. Ultimately these led to multi-party non-racial elections in April 1994 at which the ANC won 252 of the 400 seats in the new National Assembly. Nelson Mandela became the first President of the new South Africa on 10th May 1994 and, as he had promised, he served just one term, retiring on 14th June 1999.

The ANC has won every election ever since 1994 with more than 60% of the vote. In 1999 they took 66.35% of the vote and 266 seats and in 2004 they won 69.69% of the vote and 279 seats, their best result to date.

After the retirement of Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki became the new President of South Africa. He served until 25th September 2008 when he stood down having completed his two terms in office. However, there was internal controversy within the ANC when Mbeki stood for a third term as ANC president; he was defeated by Jacob Zuma who subsequently became President of South Africa. The battle had created splits within the ANC and a number of members left the party. It was at this time that the Congress of the People (COPE) was formed from former ANC members.

In 2009 the ANC won with 65.90% of the vote and 264 seats in the 400 seat National Assembly. Meanwhile Jacob Zuma has become a controversial figure, facing corruption charges and more recently investigations over the financial circumstances of upgrades to his residence at Nkandla. His government has also been charged with corruption, rising strikes over working conditions and a failure to solve wide scale unemployment.

Whilst Zuma has faced many criticism within the ANC and more widely, the ANC itself is still seen as the party that gave South Africa back to the people. That was demonstrated when it won the 2014 general election. Nevertheless its vote dropped to 62.15%, its worst result to date, and it lost fifteen seats, down to 249 of the 400 seats in the National Assembly.

The African National Congress is a member of Socialist International and also the more newly formed centre-left Progressive Alliance.


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