Nelson Mandela

A touch of irony for Mandela's party

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 January, 2012, 12:00am


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Congratulations, then, to the African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela, which this weekend celebrates its centenary. Who would have thought that, 100 years later, the ANC would one day rule a country whose very creation was seen by its founders as an injustice?

The birth of a unified South Africa - an accommodation between Britain and the defeated Boers that excluded black Africans - had turned the 'Native ... into a pariah in the land of his birth,' according to one of the ANC's principal founders, Sol T. Plaatje. However, the protests of Plaatje and others were, at first, polite: 'Through this Congress the Natives will have the opportunity and means with which [...] to greatly assist the South African Statesmen who are working for the peace, prosperity, and the development of this land.'

Back then, the ANC's founders saw themselves only as a forum for expressing grievances. It was left to a later generation of leaders, including Mandela, who established the party's armed wing in 1960, to take a more confrontational approach, once it became clear that polite appeals to the white rulers' better natures were destined to fail. A century later, the ANC's website makes no mention of Plaatje, the author of an eyewitness account of the siege of Mafeking, among many other intellectual achievements. Strangely, Plaatje seems to have been written out of the party's history books. Easier to understand, though, has been the ANC's decision to ignore another centenary: May 1, 1910, when the Act of Union came into force, creating the country now known as South Africa.

It has been a difficult, heroic journey from there to here. But when you consider how the ANC has entrenched itself as a privileged ruling class, with cabinet ministers now among the country's richest businessmen, you have to marvel at how Mandela's party has become the beneficiary of something it was born to oppose.