South Africa Table of Contents
South Africa's political party system underwent radical transformation in the early 1990s when previously illegal parties were unbanned and participated in the April 1994 elections. In what international observers called a "developing multiparty system," parties were challenged to become all-inclusive and not to limit their appeal to their traditional constituent groups. They also had to reorient themselves to participate in the bicameral multiracial legislature rather than the previous tricameral apartheid-based parliament. The most successful of the parties in the April 1994 elections (and the South African Communist Party) are described below, in order of decreasing parliamentary strength.
The African National Congress (ANC) was founded in 1912 as the South African Native National Congress, under the leadership of Dr. Pixley Ka Isaka Seme, a Durban attorney. It was renamed the African National Congress in 1923. Although the ANC cooperated to some degree with the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA--later, in 1953, the South African Communist Party, or SACP) in the early 1920s, cooperation ceased in 1927 when some traditional African leaders opposed white-led communist involvement in the black nationalist movement. In the 1930s, the ANC's influence declined, primarily because it was unsuccessful in representing black grievances and was weakened by factionalism and leadership disarray. The ANC's revival in the 1940s was largely the result of a dynamic group of young leaders--including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, and Anton Lembede--who were influenced by a pan-African version of black nationalism. In 1943 they established the ANC Youth League to mobilize mass protest against racial discrimination. Following the rise to power of the NP in 1948 and its implementation of strict apartheid laws, the ANC, with many of the Youth League founders then in leadership positions, responded by launching a series of countrywide defiance campaigns. This activism invigorated the ANC and resulted in the movement's growth from 7,000 to some 100,000 dues-paying members in 1952.
In the mid-1950s, the ANC formed the Congress Alliance with other antiapartheid organizations to oppose the white state. On June 26, 1955, alliance members adopted the Freedom Charter, which advocated the creation of a nonsocialist multiracial society, but the debate over the charter widened an ideological rift in the ANC between Charterists and Africanists, concerning the question of multiracialism. A few activists opposed the ANC's inclusive policies and established the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) in 1959 to press for black political control.
The government declared the ANC an illegal organization on April 8, 1960, as part of a government crackdown and state of emergency following violent antiapartheid incidents at Sharpeville and Langa. The ANC went underground, many of its cadres left South Africa for exile in neighboring states, and its leaders adopted armed struggle as a means of achieving their goals. In 1961 ANC and SACP leaders created a joint military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe ("Spear of the Nation," also known as Umkhonto, MK). The principle of armed struggle through guerrilla warfare to overthrow the South African regime superseded the goal of gaining political rights for all citizens. ANC sabotage and attacks between 1960 and 1962 led to the arrest of many party leaders. At the 1963 trial that became renowned as "the Rivonia trial," Mandela, Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, and others were convicted of treason and were sentenced to life terms in prison. Most ANC leaders fled the country, established ANC headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia, and continued their struggle against the Pretoria regime.
Over the years, the ANC built up a strong support network in many Western and Eastern-bloc states, in cooperation with overseas antiapartheid groups. Although certain Western states, particularly Scandinavian countries, provided financial support, the ANC's logistical support, including the supply of weapons, came from the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The ANC also attained observer status at the UN and during the 1980s broadened its diplomatic ties with Western states.
The ANC's leadership structure consists of the president, deputy president, secretary general, deputy secretary general, and treasurer general. A ninety-member National Executive Committee (NEC) consults with senior officers and influences decisions on important issues. A twenty-six-member National Working Committee (NWC), chosen from the NEC, oversees day-to-day decision making and administration and manages the party's functional departments. The seven appointed members of the President's Committee serve as presidential advisers and assistants.
The ANC's annual national conference brings together more than 1,300 representatives, whose functions are to elect the NEC and to nominate delegates to the party's National Assembly, which meets every five years. At a working level, the party has nine national departments--Information and Research, Manpower and Development, Foreign Affairs, Youth, Political Education, Information and Publicity, Finance, Religious Affairs, and Women--as well as branches in each of the provinces.
In the early 1990s, the ANC took a number of steps to broaden its political base. It reactivated the ANC Youth League in order to bridge the generational gap between its older leaders and young members. In addition, propelled by the many politically active women in the organization, the ANC reactivated its Women's League in order to promote women's rights nationwide. The ANC Youth League and the ANC Women's League work in cooperation with the corresponding departments within the ANC.
Although the ANC primarily represents the interests of the majority black population, its membership is open to whites, coloureds, and Asians, as well. It had appealed to all races to join in 1969, and a substantial number of white liberals did join during the 1970s and the 1980s. In April 1991, five white members of parliament representing the Democratic Party left that party to join the ANC, giving the ANC official parliamentary representation for the first time in the all-white House of Assembly.
Until the ANC and the NP-led government entered into negotiations over the country's political future in 1991, the ANC's ideological platform for opposing apartheid ranged from Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi's strategy of passive resistance (in the early 1900s), to pan-Africanism (in the 1940s), to the Freedom Charter in 1955. In 1969 the ANC adopted an official policy advocating armed struggle to gain political control of the state, and in 1988 it promulgated the Constitutional Guidelines for a Democratic South Africa, derived from the Freedom Charter of the 1950s. These guidelines called for a nonracial democratic state based on universal franchise. In August 1989, the ANC adopted the Harare Declaration, advocating multiparty negotiations to arrive at a new form of government, giving strong emphasis to the concept of individual rights.
The ANC's major political partner throughout most of the apartheid era was the SACP. SACP leaders helped the ANC to secure the support of communist and socialist governments during its period of exile, played important roles in ANC policy formulation, and helped to consolidate support for the ANC in the labor movement. The SACP at times played a moderating role in the ANC, too; for example, in early 1993 SACP chair Joe Slovo drafted the ANC's proposals, couched in a "sunset clause," to compromise and to share power with the NP. Slovo's position was that compromise was necessary because the party was "not dealing with a defeated enemy," but with the NP as a minority party.
Although the ANC became the country's dominant political party in 1994, it still faced a number of long-term problems. The issue of political succession had yet to be resolved. President Mandela and other senior party leaders were members of the older generation, whose active leadership years were drawing to a close. Mandela had pledged he would not seek reelection in 1999. His most likely successors--Thabo Mbeki, the former ANC secretary for international affairs, and Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC secretary general since 1991--had not demonstrated the decades of practiced leadership of their seniors.
As the dominant party in the national unity government, the ANC had to balance the need to co-manage (along with the NP) the country's finances to facilitate economic growth against its long-standing affiliation with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the labor confederation known for vigorously defending workers' interests against those of the previous government. The ANC also had to overcome its image as a violator of human rights after its leaders acknowledged there had been instances of torture, execution, and abuse of dissidents in its exile camps and in some black townships during the antiapartheid struggle. In 1993 the party apologized for past abuses, but it refused to punish its human rights violators or to pay compensation to the victims or their families.
In 1994 the ANC proposed a number of controversial cabinet appointments, adding to the difficulties inherent in transforming itself from a former liberation movement into a broad-based political party. A notable case was that of Winnie Mandela, who had earlier been regarded as South Africa's "first lady of liberation." She had staged a political comeback after being stripped of her official posts in the ANC and after being shunned by many black leaders because of her 1991 conviction for her part in a kidnapping that had resulted in a death. Her five-year jail sentence was set aside for a fine, but she was subsequently removed from the ANC's NEC and as head of its Welfare Department.
Mrs. Mandela went on to organize an independent power base in the restive and impoverished squatter camps, where she was respected for her activism on behalf of the poor. In some communities, Mrs. Mandela was able to capitalize on the widespread distrust of government that extended even to black leaders like Nelson Mandela. During the preelection negotiations, she had criticized power-sharing proposals as a deal between "the elite of the oppressed and the oppressors" and had charged ANC leaders with "the distortion of a noble goal in favor of a short-cut route to parliament by a handful of individuals." But while she chided ANC leaders for their new-found "embourgeoisement," Mrs. Mandela continued to live in relative luxury in the Johannesburg township of Soweto. Even after she fell out of favor with the government led by her husband in 1994, she remained popular, especially among the poor and unemployed. Her defiance of the government led to her removal from office in March 1995.
Data as of May 1996
South Africa Table of Contents