The African National Congress’s (ANC) multi-racial character must be further entrenched as the party turns 100, President Jacob Zuma said on Friday.
“Together we must celebrate that non-racial character of the ANC and entrench it further in our country,” he said at the launch of the ANC’s centenary celebrations at Constitution Hill.
Zuma said unity had always characterised the ANC and that this was not limited to the unity of blacks but applied to all races in South Africa.
Quoting from the Freedom Charter, he said South Africa belonged to all who lived in it.
The ANC turns 100 in January.
The party experienced a drop in support among minority communities in the local government elections earlier this year, losing minority strongholds formerly held by the ANC, such as Lenasia and Eldorado Park in Johannesburg.
The party conceded this might have been caused by comments made by ANC Youth League (ANCYL) president Julius Malema who described whites as criminals before the election. Government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi was quoted as saying there was an “over-concentration” of coloured people in the Western Cape.
ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete said the Unity in Diversity theme of the centenary celebrations was decided upon before the local government elections.
Zuma said it was not “absolutely true” that the ANC had lost its share of the minority vte.
“Yes, there may be some who did not vote — not just in the minorities. I’m sure even the Africans in some areas did not vote. So it doesn’t in any way undermine the belief of the ANC.
“We would want to be part of the leadership of the country to entrench non-racialism.
“Of course it is absolutely true that, from us as the leadership of the ANC, we should … express non-racialism more than anybody else to achieve that objective, and this is what we are going to be doing.”
Zuma said the ANC would celebrate all those who had contributed to the struggle for freedom and democracy in the run-up to its centenary and during the rest of 2012.
Most important among the celebrated people were the party’s alliance partners, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions.
‘A battle for the soul’
Centenary commemorations would culminate with the ANC’s national elective conference in December 2012, when the party is due to elect new leaders.
It was uncertain whether Zuma would be elected for a second term as ANC president at the conference. The ANCYL reportedly wanted him replaced by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.
Zuma said contestation for posts did not constitute a “battle for the soul” of the party.
“There are no problems. It [the ANC] will not be a living organisation, it will be artificial if we … had no diverse views on matters, as well as on preferences in terms of who leads. You don’t do that in other organisations but in the ANC you can because we are all democrats.”
The succession debate has not officially opened but while the ANC has said the matter should remain closed until the appropriate time, the ANCYL and Gauteng ANC wants succession talks opened.
Zuma said on Friday he would rest easy and enjoy the ANC’s centenary celebrations because he understood the nature of the party.
“Certainly, I’ll be celebrating it even more excitedly. I think our generation is lucky to be the ones that are the leadership of the ANC when it completes its centenary.”
Writing in his newsletter on the ANC website, Zuma said the centenary celebration should refocus everyone on the party and what it stands for, its culture, tradition, and its legacy.
He said this would help remind the people and the world of the ANC’s pivotal role in the country and on the continent. It would have to become “more serious about protecting and projecting our image, history, traditions, culture, and character properly”.
“It means that we must show to all that we are the oldest liberation movement in Africa, and therefore our conduct and behaviour must reflect the maturity of our organisation.” — Sapa
Follow the Mail & Guardian‘s coverage of the ANC’s 100th anniversary.