South Africa's liberation movement will kick off its 100th anniversary celebrations on Sunday with a huge multimillion-dollar jamboree and a stadium filled with 100,000 cheering loyalists, along with dozens of heads of state and other dignitaries from around the world.
The African National Congress, the oldest liberation party in Africa, is planning a full year of events, including the lighting of a centenary flame that will tour the country.
The ANC continues to win landslide victories in every South African election. But its triumphal mood is dampened by a growing internal crisis, sparked by factional feuding, high-level corruption and its failure to fulfill its job-creation promises. As the party looks to the future, there are huge challenges still ahead of it.
By overcoming the apartheid regime in 1994, the ANC achieved a victory of historic proportions. How has it ruled since then? Here's a report card on the ANC's performance in government.
RACIAL RECONCILIATION A-
Racial tensions still sometimes flare up, provoked by extremists who plague both sides of the racial divide, but in daily life South Africans get along better than ever before. As neighbours and work colleagues, South Africans have largely reconciled with each other and racial conflict has been surprisingly rare.
The ANC has made an effort to include whites, Indians and mixed-race “coloureds” in each of its cabinets since 1994. Nelson Mandela took a huge step toward racial integration when he embraced his former apartheid foes and cheered for South Africa’s rugby team, long the symbol of Afrikaner sports. White extremist groups, which launched terrorist campaigns in the early 1990s, have faded into obscurity.
Even when lingering resentments erupt to the surface, the silent majority in South Africa has opted for moderation. Many whites, for example, refused to support the zealous white activists who launched a court battle to seek the banning of a liberation song that included the words “shoot the Boer” (a reference to Afrikaner farmers).
Going forward: One of the biggest remaining issues is the continuing threat of xenophobic attacks against African migrants in South Africa. Scores of migrants were killed in attacks in 2008 and others are often threatened with eviction from black townships.
HOUSING AND BASIC SERVICES C+
The ANC has made solid progress in housing and basic services. Three million new houses have been constructed for the poor since 1994, and more than 90 per cent of families have access to clean drinking water today, compared to 62 per cent when apartheid ended. Similarly, about 85 per cent of homes have electricity today, compared to just 36 per cent in 1994.
Unemployment remains stubbornly high, with an unofficial rate of nearly 40 per cent. But the ANC established a system of monthly grants for about 15 million poor people, ensuring that hunger would be mostly avoided.
Going forward: Despite the improvements, there is still a shortage of proper housing and some townships have erupted into violent protests over a lack of electricity and other services.
HEALTH AND EDUCATION C-
For years, the ANC government under ex-president Thabo Mbeki was in denial on the AIDS crisis that was devastating the country. He delayed the introduction of life-saving medicine, causing an estimated 365,000 premature deaths. The government improved its performance on AIDS issues after Mr. Mbeki’s departure, but the death rate remains high.
Hospitals in black townships often suffer from shortages of staff and equipment. The government has promised a system of national health insurance to ensure that the poor have access to health care, but the plan will take 15 years to roll out.
South Africa’s education system is equally weak. Black education was systematically underfunded during the apartheid era, but its improvement since 1994 has been slow. South Africa is ranked just 139th in the world in the literacy and numeracy skills of its primary-school students.
Going forward: Better teacher education will be crucial. One study found that barely half of its Grade 4 math teachers could correctly answer a simple fractions question from the Grade 6 curriculum.
FREEDOM AND EQUALITY B-
South Africans are freer than ever before, with their human rights safeguarded by one of the world’s most progressive constitutions and a vigilant Constitutional Court. South African elections have been among the freest and fairest anywhere in Africa.
Yet the geography of apartheid has remained in place, with most blacks living in impoverished townships on the outskirts of the cities. The gap between rich and poor has increased sharply, making South Africa one of the world’s most unequal societies.
The average income of whites is still eight times greater than that of blacks – only slightly less than the ratio at the end of apartheid. The richest 10 per cent of the population controls 58 per cent of national income, while half of families subsist on a per capita income of less than two dollars a day.
The government aimed to transfer 30 per cent of farmland to blacks by 2014 on a voluntary basis, but it is far behind this target. Only about 7 per cent of farmland has been redistributed so far.
Going forward: New threats to political freedom have emerged in recent years, including attempts to muzzle the media (largely ineffective so far) and a planned secrecy law to authorize jail terms for those who leak confidential information.
CRIME AND CORRUPTION D
Under the ANC, the murder rate has dropped significantly since 1994, although South Africa’s murder rate is still among the highest in the world. Corruption, however, has increased to worrying levels. Black-empowerment schemes, aimed at reversing the injustices of apartheid, have been widely abused to give quick profits to ANC-linked businessmen.
Even the President, Jacob Zuma, has been implicated in a bribery scandal in a weapons contract, although the charges were dropped on technicalities. Some of the President’s relatives and political allies have become wealthy in dubious business deals.
“I didn’t join the struggle to be poor,” one ANC member famously said. His remark “epitomized the prevailing ANC culture of entitlement,” says Heidi Holland, author of a new book on the party’s history.
Going forward: Several investigations into high-level corruption cases are now under way. If the investigations are serious and credible, the ANC could begin to get corruption under control.