ANC, From 'Terrorist' Label To Liberation Movement

Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the African National Congress, which is known for Nelson Mandela's message of equality, as well as recent accusations of government corruption. Host Michel Martin discusses the ANC's complex history with Crystal Orderson of the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Just ahead, the African National Congress may be best known as the party of Nelson Mandela, but in additional to helping to end apartheid in South Africa, the ANC has a long story and sometimes troubled history. Now, as the ANC moves into its 100th year, we'll take a look back at the struggles that define the party and also the ANC's role in the future of South Africa.

That's all coming up on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

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MARTIN: Car enthusiasts from around the world are flocking to Detroit for the North American International Auto Show. That's where the auto industry lets the public get a glance at their latest and greatest ideas. But it's not all about candy-colored paint jobs and hot new technology. The event is a barometer of the state of the industry and Motown itself. We'll walk the floors of the auto show next time on TELL ME MORE.

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MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up a little later in the program, I have some thoughts in weekly Can I Just Tell You commentary.

But first, most people know the African National Congress, or the ANC, as the party of Nelson Mandela, who came to power in South Africa's first all-race democratic election in 1994. But its history goes back much further than that. It was actually formed 100 years ago and is considered Africa's oldest liberation movement.

Once labeled a terrorist organization by South Africa's white minority-ruled apartheid government, the ANC has been credited with transforming a nation where just two decades ago, blacks were herded into separate territories and denied access to the country's riches, everything from beaches to schools to jobs to restaurants.

More recently, however, the ANC's legacy has been tarnished by scandals involving allegations of corruption and personal inappropriate behavior, as well, charges of failing to address the country's needs now.

We wanted to talk about all of this, so we've called upon Crystal Orderson. She is a senior correspondent for SABC News. That's the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

Crystal, thank you so much for joining us and Happy New Year to you.

CRYSTAL ORDERSON: Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: And as I said, that Nelson Mandela is the first person, probably in this country, who comes to mind when people think of the ANC, but could you just briefly tell us a little bit about the origins of the party?

ORDERSON: The African National Congress was founded on January 8, 1912 as the South African Native National Congress and was formed by a group of African chiefs and intellectuals that felt politically excluded by the white minority-ruled government. And, actually, it's some African American intellectuals that influenced some of these South African intellectuals that they came to give (unintelligible) we actually want to have a party that's going to promote unity and cooperation, but also talk about the socio-economic conditions that African people are living in.

And here we have, 100 years later, Africa's oldest liberation movement celebrating its hundred years.

MARTIN: Now, of course, as we mentioned, Nelson Mandela is the person who comes to mind. Let's listen to an extended clip of Nelson Mandela from his inauguration speech in 1994 as he envisioned a new and prosperous era for South Africa. Here it is:

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NELSON MANDELA: Never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity...

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MANDELA: And suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement. Let freedom reign. God bless Africa. I thank you.

MARTIN: And, obviously, that's a very brief taste of the message that day, but I think many people will associate Mr. Mandela with a message of reconciliation, of inclusiveness. Does the ANC retain that image of a party of inclusiveness and reconciliation?

ORDERSON: I think the ANC has been in power in South Africa as the ruling government for the past 17 years and I think the Mandela presidency obviously spoke a lot about reconciliation, nation building and building this idea of one nation after the brutality of apartheid and trying to reconcile different people.

However, 10 years into this democracy, things have changed fundamentally. Michel, we've got massive unemployment. We've got different socio-economic conditions that's plaguing the country. We've got infrastructure problems and, of course, South Africa is now part of the global economy. And also, you know, the global economic crisis impacting on what's happening. And then, of course, it's this liberation movement that's 100 years old that's had to adapt, that's had to change, that had to transform.

And the party itself is also going through its own transformation and, as you had mentioned earlier, corruption, greed, elitism within the party ranks are clearly impacting on how it's delivering to ordinary South Africans.

MARTIN: We're speaking about the 100th anniversary of the African National Congress with senior correspondent for the South African Broadcasting Corporation, Crystal Orderson. She's talking about the history of the ANC and the role it plays in the country's life now, which is a significant one. And Crystal, do I have this right that one of the metaphors for what's sticking in people's craw right now is that one of the events - the kickoff events - to the ANCs Centennial Celebration is a golf tournament, and that there are people who say that this is exactly what's wrong with the party now. It's - people don't get it, that there are a lot of people who are still desperately poor and this is not the right message.

ORDERSON: Absolutely. A large percentage of the country - between 30 and 40 percent - live in abject poverty and do not have access to any job or actually a meal. And here you have - and, of course, I think, I covered the weekend celebration and I covered different people going to the Centennial Celebration and they were, of course, saying, you know, this is a party that has brought freedom in our lifetime. But the next hundred years the critical question is economic freedom in our lifetime. South Africa has got a stubbornly high unemployment rate that, you know, some people equate - well, it's between 30 and 40 percent, which means that there is a large part of people that just cannot be economically empowered or participate in this new democracy. And here you have a golf tournament by, you know, the who's who in South Africa business, and it's the ruling party that spearheading this. And, of course, you know, it is sending mixed messages to ordinary South Africans that actually do not have a plate of food to eat tonight.

MARTIN: What do ANC leaders say, of course, it's led now by Jacob Zuma, what do the country - the ANCs leader say when these criticisms are brought to them? How do they defend it?

ORDERSON: I think this week we actually saw for the first time in a very long time that foreign leaders from the African National Congress actually spoke out about this. And they acknowledged that the past few years we've seen the corruption and greed coming into the fore. And they say that's corrupted the party. Because this is the party of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo; fighters, people, ordinary people that had died so that I can sit here and talk to you as a free black South African. And that message in that dream is no longer taking, you know, shaping ordinary lives because some people are just stealing and blatantly just taking from the purse that should be things, or money that should be allocated to ordinary people.

And I think yesterday, President Jacob Zuma, in his one-and-a-half hour speech acknowledged this, that the party corruption and, you know, non-delivery has actually plagued the party and the next hundred years - at least the next five years. He wants to say that this change happens and that actually there's delivery to ordinary people in South Africa. But I think it is quite a challenge. We've got a population of 50 million, unemployment at 56 percent, a global economy that's in tatters. And so it's going to be very challenging for the ANC to deliver to all as they have promised in the Freedom Charter and in the post '94 for Reconstruction and Development Program.

MARTIN: And speaking of challenge in the minute that we have left, is there a challenge within the ANC. Often, you know, as you point out, the ANC has been the ruling party for quite some time now, really dominating the government, you know, at every level. But often sometimes when that happens there are change elements that come from within and people within the party who grew up with it perhaps don't feel that they have a need to accept kind of the verities of the past. Is there any challenge within the ANC to change the way the party is viewed or to change the way it operates?

ORDERSON: I think Zuma - Mr. Zuma - mentioned that, you know, there needs to be a new kind of cadre, a person in the party that's going to see (unintelligible) South Africa that's nonracial, beautiful country into a country for all black and white to live in it. I think however, the party acknowledges that right now the type of person that have entered the party are interested in making money and they need to go back to its values. And they say, you know, the next five to 10 years they want to critically engage with that, changing the perception of how the party's perceived and the leadership. However, this year once again, although, you know, past three days we've had celebrations, the next few months we're going to see a bruising leadership battle because the party is heading for its election, a new party president will be elected...

MARTIN: OK.

ORDERSON: ...and therefore, it's going to be quite challenging.

MARTIN: OK. Crystal Orderson, we have to leave it there for now. Thank you so much for your insights. Crystal is a senior correspondent for the South African Broadcasting Corporation. She's telling us about the 100th anniversary of the founding of the African National Congress. She joined us from Cape Town. Crystal, thank you so much.

Thank you.

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