This weekend, South Africa’s African National Congress, or the ANC, celebrated its 100th anniversary by spending millions on lavish parties. The party of Nelson Mandela even splurged for a round of golf at a luxury club. All this just a stone’s throw from the small church where the party was founded a century ago.
The celebrations were aimed at reminding South Africans of the ruling party’s deep and significant history. But, not surprisingly, country club parking lots full of BMWs and the bling-bling nature of the weekend’s parties seemed to show how far the party has diverged from its socialist roots.
At Latitude News, we often look to the Daily Maverick for our South Africa news fix. Writer Rebecca Davis did a roundup of how the ANC anniversary was covered, “ANC at 100: How the World Saw it.” A TIME magazine headline says it all: “How the ANC Lost its Way.”
But the Daily Maverick, true to its name, provided a contrarian view on the party’s trajectory. Far from saying the ANC betrayed its core values, writer Sipho Hlongwane argued that the ANC was never a grass-roots phenomenon with pure socialist goals. In fact, he points out the original leadership were highly educated elites with highfaluting tastes. Hlongwane says the founders would not be shocked to find the heirs to their legacy drinking champagne while their chauffeurs wait outside the club: “It is not difficult to trace a line from the founders of the party to the partying young lions. I don’t think the poor of South Africa today will find much in common with the small group of intellectuals, writers and religious scholars who gathered 100 years ago to draft what would become the ANC.”
But Hlongwane also argues that the ANC have helped the poor, even if the effort is partly due to political pragmatism. “Up to 14-million free houses have been built since 1994,” he writes. “More poor people now have water and electricity than ever before. These are victories the ANC-led government can claim.”
In fact, Hlongwane says that at its heart the struggle against apartheid had more to do with the right to be upwardly mobile than any socialist agenda. “I’m not going to join the line of commentators calling for the ANC to return to its, presumably, poor roots,” he concludes. “This movement has always had a taste for la dolce vita. The 100 years of selfless struggle weren’t so that we would all be on bread and water, right?”