History of the African National Congress

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The African National Congress (ANC) is the current governing party of the Republic of South Africa. The ANC was founded in 1912 in Bloemfontein and is the oldest liberation movement in Africa.[1]


As a resistance movement, the ANC was predated by a number of black resistance movements, among them Umkosi Wezintaba, formed in South Africa between 1890 and 1920.[2]

The organization was initially founded as the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) on in Bloemfontein on 8 January 1912. Its founders were Saul Msane (Esq.), Josiah Gumede, John Dube, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, and Sol Plaatje along with chiefs, people's representatives, church organisations, and other prominent individuals. It aimed to bring all Africans together as one people to defend their rights and freedoms. The organisation was renamed the ANC in 1923. The organisation, from its inception represented both traditional and modern elements, from tribal chiefs to church and community bodies and educated black professionals, though women were only admitted as affiliate members from 1931 and as full members in 1943.

The formation of the ANC Youth League in 1944 by Anton Lembede heralded a new generation committed to building non-violent mass action against the legal underpinnings of the white minority's supremacy.

In 1946 the ANC allied with the South African Communist Party in assisting in the formation of the South African Mine Workers' Union. After the miners strike became a general strike, the ANC's President General Alfred Bitini Xuma, along with delegates of the South African Indian Congress (of which Mahatma Gandhi was a member) attended the 1946 session of the United Nations General Assembly where the treatment of Indians in South Africa was raised by the Government of India. Together, they raised the issue of the police brutality against the miners strike and the wider struggle for equality in South Africa.[3] The ANC also worked with the Natal Indian Congress and Transvaal Indian Congress.

Opposition to Apartheid[edit]

In 1948, the Afrikaner nationalist National Party unexpectedly came into power defeating the more moderate United Party despite the fact that the party had won significantly more votes. The National Party had campaigned on the policy of apartheid an extreme form of institutionalized racial segregation.

During the 1950s, non-whites were removed from electoral rolls, residence and mobility laws were tightened, and political activities restricted.

The successes achieved by the Indian independence movement under the leadership of Gandhi and resulting in the independence of India in 1947, inspired black South Africans to resist the racism and inequality that they, and all other non-whites, experienced. They began collaborating, even jointly campaigning for their struggle to be managed by the United Nations.[4]

The ANC also found its role model in the initial movement by the Indian political parties. They realised that they would need a fervent leader, like Gandhi was for the Indians, who was, in the words of Nelson Mandela, "willing to violate the law and if necessary go to prison for their beliefs as Gandhi had". In 1949 the ANC saw a jump in their membership, which previously lingered around five-thousand, and began to establish a firm presence in South African national society.[4]

In June 1952, the ANC joined with other anti-Apartheid organisations in a Defiance Campaign against the restriction of political, labour, and residential rights, during which protesters deliberately violated oppressive laws, following the example of Mahatma Gandhi's passive resistance in KwaZulu-Natal and in India. The campaign was called off in April 1953 after new laws prohibiting protest meetings were passed.

In June 1955 the Congress of the People, organised by the ANC and Indian, Coloured and white organisations at Kliptown near Johannesburg, adopted the Freedom Charter, which became the fundamental document of the anti-Apartheid struggle with its demand for equal rights for all regardless of race. As opposition to the regime's policies continued, 156 leading members of the ANC and allied organisations were arrested in 1956; the resulting Treason Trial ended with their acquittal five years later.

The ANC first called for an academic boycott of South Africa in protest of its Apartheid policies in 1958 in Ghana. The call was repeated the following year in London.[5]

In 1959 a number of members broke away from the ANC because they objected to the ANC's reorientation from African nationalist policies to non-racialism. They formed the rival Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), led by Robert Sobukwe.

Protest and banning[edit]

The ANC planned a campaign against the Pass Laws, which required black South Africans to carry an identity card at all times to justify their presence in white areas, to begin on 31 March 1960. The PAC pre-empted the ANC by holding unarmed protests 10 days earlier, during which 69 protesters were killed and 180 injured by police fire in what became known as the Sharpeville massacre.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, both organisations were banned from political activity. International opposition to the regime increased throughout the 1950s and 1960s, fuelled by the growing number of newly independent nations, the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Britain, and the civil rights movement in the United States. In 1960, the president of the ANC, Albert Luthuli, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This feat that would be repeated in 1993 by Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk jointly, for their actions in helping to negotiate peaceful transition to democracy after Mandela's release from prison.

Armed resistance[edit]

Following the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, the ANC leadership concluded that the methods of non-violence such as those utilised by Gandhi against the British Empire during their colonisation of India were not suitable against the Apartheid system. A military wing was formed in 1961, called Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), meaning "Spear of the Nation", with Mandela as its first leader. MK operations during the 1960s primarily involved targeting and sabotaging government facilities. Mandela was arrested in 1962, convicted of sabotage in 1964 and sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island, along with Sisulu and other ANC leaders following the Rivonia Trial.

During the 1970s and 1980s the ANC leadership in exile under Oliver Tambo made the decision to target apartheid government leadership, command and control, secret police, and military–industrial complex assets and personnel in decapitation strikes, targeted killings, and guerrilla actions such as bombings of facilities frequented by military and government personnel. A number of civilians were also killed in these attacks. Examples of these include the Amanzimtoti bombing,[6] the Sterland bomb in Pretoria,[7] the Wimpy bomb in Pretoria,[8] the Juicy Lucy bomb in Pretoria,[7] and the Magoo's bar bombing in Durban.[9] ANC acts of sabotage aimed at government institutions included the bombing of the Johannesburg Magistrates Court, the attack on the Koeberg nuclear power station, the rocket attack on Voortrekkerhoogte in Pretoria, and the 1983 Church Street bombing in Pretoria, which killed 16 and wounded 130.

The ANC was classified as a terrorist[10] organisation by the South African government and by some Western countries including the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, the ANC had a London office from 1978 to 1994 at 28 Penton Street in Islington, north London, now marked with a plaque.[11]

During this period, the South African military engaged in a number of raids and bombings on ANC bases in Botswana, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland. Dulcie September, a member of the ANC who was investigating the arms trade between France and South Africa was assassinated in Paris in 1988. In the ANC's training camps, the ANC faced allegations that dissident members faced torture, detention without trial and even execution in ANC prison camps.[12][13] In South Africa, the campaign to make the townships "ungovernable" led to kangaroo courts and mob executions of opponents and collaborators, often by necklacing.[14][15]

There was violence between the ANC and the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). For example, between 1985 and 1989, 5,000 civilians were killed in fighting between the two parties.[16] Massacres of each other's supporters include the Shell House massacre and the Boipatong massacre.

By the 1980s, the African National Congress' attacks, coupled with international pressure and internal dissent, increased in South Africa. The ANC received financial and tactical support from the USSR, which orchestrated military involvement with surrogate Cuban forces through Angola. However, the fall of the USSR after 1991 brought an end to its funding of the ANC and also changed the attitude of some Western governments that had previously supported the Apartheid regime as an ally against communism. The South African government found itself under increasing internal and external pressure, and this, together with a more conciliatory tone from the ANC, resulted in a change in the political landscape. State President F.W. de Klerk unbanned the ANC and other banned organisations on 2 February 1990, and began peace talks for a negotiated settlement to end apartheid.

Government of South Africa[edit]

African National Congress constituency office in Sea Point, Cape Town, for Annelize van Wyk MP.

With the end of apartheid, it was a foregone conclusion that the ANC would not only win the April 1994 general election—the country's first multiracial elections—but do so in a landslide. The only question was whether the ANC would win the two-thirds majority necessary to unilaterally amend the Interim Constitution.

In that election, the ANC, as the dominant partner in a tripartite alliance with the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, won a comprehensive victory, winning 62 percent of the vote—just short of a two-thirds majority. The new parliament elected Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa, making him the country's first black president.

In Kwa-Zulu Natal, the ANC maintained an uneasy coalition with the Inkatha Freedom Party after neither party won a majority in the 1994 and 1999 provincial elections.

In 2004 the party contested national elections in voluntary coalition with the New National Party (NNP), a successor to the National Party, which it effectively absorbed following the NNP's dissolution in 2005.

After the 1994 and 1999 elections it governed seven of the nine provinces, with Kwa-Zulu Natal under the IFP and the Western Cape Province under the NNP. In the 2004 South African general election, it won both the Western Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal provinces due to a combination of the NNP's electoral base being eroded by the Democratic Alliance (DA) and a poor showing by the IFP.

The ANC increased its majority in the 2009 South African general election but lost control of the Western Cape Province to the DA. In the 2014 South African general election and the 2016 South African municipal elections the ANC remained in the majority but experienced a relative decline in its overall share of the votes. This was due to the increased strength of the DA, but also due to the newly established Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) which became South Africa's third biggest party. The DA was able to take control over several key municipalities including Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Signs of strain[edit]

By 2001 the tripartite alliance between the ANC, COSATU and SACP began showing signs of strain as the ANC moved to more liberal economic policies than its alliance partners were comfortable with. The focus of dissent was the GEAR program (an initialism for "Growth, Employment and Redistribution") which formed the foundation of the government's economic policy.

In late 2004 this division was again thrown into sharp relief by Zwelinzima Vavi of COSATU protesting the ANC's policy of "quiet diplomacy" towards the worsening conditions in Zimbabwe, as well as Black Economic Empowerment, which he complained benefits a favoured few in the black elite and not the masses.

The ANC government also faced (sometimes violent) protests in townships over perceived poor service delivery, as well as internal disputes, as local government elections approached in 2006.[17][18]

Leadership struggle[edit]

In 2005 the alliance was faced a crisis as Jacob Zuma, who was fired from his position as Deputy President of South Africa by president Thabo Mbeki, faced corruption charges. Complicating the situation was the fact that Zuma remained Deputy President of the ANC, and maintained a strong following amongst many ANC supporters, and the ANC's alliance partners.[19] In October 2005, top officials in the National Intelligence Agency, who were Zuma supporters, were suspended for illegally spying on an Mbeki supporter, Saki Macozoma, amid allegations that ANC supporters were using their positions within organs of state to spy on, and discredit each other.[20] In December 2005, Zuma was charged with rape[21] and his position as Deputy President of the ANC was suspended.[22]

Jacob Zuma was acquitted of the rape charges, and was reinstated as Deputy President of the organisation. A battle for leadership of the ANC ensued, culminating at the party's national conference in Polokwane (16–20 December 2007), where both Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki were nominated for the position of president. On 18 December 2007, Jacob Zuma was elected President of the ANC at the ANC conference in Polokwane.[23] Jacob Zuma was replaced as ANC president by Cyril Ramaphosa at the 2017 ANC national conference.

Leaders of the ANC[edit]

Presidents of the ANC[edit]

Deputy presidents of the ANC[edit]

Secretaries-General of the ANC[edit]

Other key figures in ANC history[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Daniels, Lou-Anne (8 January 2019). "#ANC107: A brief history of Africa's oldest liberation movement". iol.co.za. Archived from the original on 8 January 2019.
  2. ^ Onselen, Charles van (1982). Studies in the Social and Economic History of the Witwatersrand 1886–1914: 2 New Nineveh. p. 172. ISBN 0-582-64385-6.
  3. ^ "THE AFRICAN MINERS' STRIKE OF 1946 by M. P. Naicker. Retrieved 16/10/08". queensu.ca. Archived from the original on 16 January 2009. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  4. ^ a b "Passive Resistance". sahistory.org.za. Retrieved 2 April 2018.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ "Building the Academic Boycott in Britain". Archived from the original on 1 October 2006. Retrieved 14 October 2008.
  6. ^ "Volume THREE Chapter ONE".
  8. ^ "St Francis Bay and Jeffreys Web Designers, Hosting and eMail".
  9. ^ "Justice Home".
  10. ^ "404". tkb.org. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  11. ^ A-Z of Islington's Plaques Archived 22 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Cleveland, Todd (2005). ""We Still Want the Truth": The ANC's Angolan Detention Camps and Post-Apartheid Memory". Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. 25 (1): 63–78. doi:10.1215/1089201X-25-1-63.
  13. ^ "Torture Allegations Bedevil ANC Leadership". The Washington Post. 26 October 1992.
  15. ^ Macleod, Scott (18 February 1991). "South Africa: The Lost Generation". Time.
  16. ^ http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/SOD.TAB15.1F.GIF
  17. ^ Musgrave, Amy (19 January 2006). "ANC says more cities to be run by women". Mail & Guardian.
  18. ^ "ANC poll rebels 'have as good as resigned". Cape Argus. 20 January 2006. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007.
  19. ^ Terreblanche, Christelle (16 October 2005). "Alliance cracks widen as Zuma goes for broke". Independent Online. Archived from the original on 13 October 2006.
  20. ^ "New ANC spy vs spy bombshell". Sunday Independent.
  21. ^ Sapa (8 December 2005). "Details of the Zuma rape allegations". iafrica.com. Archived from the original on 8 December 2005.
  22. ^ "Jacob Zuma's ANC duties suspended". BBC News. 7 December 2005.
  23. ^ Riaan Wolmarans, Matthew Burbidge and Sapa (18 December 2007). "Zuma is new ANC President". Mail & Guardian. Polokwane, South Africa. Archived from the original on 19 December 2007. Retrieved 8 January 2018.

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