Mandela missing as disunity marks ANC's centenary party

 

The African National Congress stumbled into its second century yesterday with little rejoicing, amid a clampdown on speeches and after international dignitaries stayed away from a chaotic series of commemorative events.

Yesterday's high-point, a rally in Mangaung – the municipality once known as Bloemfontein – almost descended into a stampede after people who had been bussed in from all over the country battled in a heatwave for seats in the city's World Cup football stadium.

As President Jacob Zuma gave a lacklustre 50-page speech, the 46,000-capacity Free State Stadium began to empty, only to fill again when the music began.

Hopes raised last week by the chairwoman of the party, Baleka Mbete, of the screening of a video message from 93-year-old Nelson Mandela were dashed. But it was unclear if this was due to the ailing former president's health or his possible dismay at the fierce infighting in the party. Mr Mandela lives in his childhood village, Qunu, in the Eastern Cape, 300km from Mangaung.

President Zuma used his speech to promote the party's centenary slogan, "Unity in diversity". Looking solemn and tired, Mr Zuma said black people had been reduced to subjects until they united in 1912 "in selfless struggle" to create the South African Native Congress (SANC), the forerunner to the ANC. He said the ANC "is a broad church that is home".

But voices of that church were prevented from speaking at yesterday's commemoration. Some branches of the party were instructed to deliver their messages in writing.

The move follows months of in-fighting that is likely to worsen in the run-up to a leadership conference in December at which President Zuma is tipped to ask for a second term.

The most high-profile figure in the crisis is the youth league president, Julius Malema, who in an uncomfortable compromise move by the party was suspended last month but remains in his position, pending appeal.

Mr Malema refused to supply a centennial message for a booklet which was handed out to people attending the event at the stadium, instead choosing to issue a press statement.

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