In a stadium packed with tens of thousands of dancing revelers, South Africa's ruling party, the African National Congress, celebrated its 100th anniversary Sunday, amid accusations that it has not delivered on its promises since taking power in 1994, namely resolving outstanding issues with poverty and unemployment.
Nelson Mandela's party, once banned for decades under apartheid, has won every national election since white rule ended in 1994, and President Jacob Zuma vows the party will rule until Jesus comes, The Associated Press reported.
On Sunday, Zuma was joined by a dozen African leaders and more heads of state along with African kings to attend a midnight ceremony, where Zuma lit a flame, expected to stay alight all year, at the Wesleyan church where the party was founded in 1912.
It means a lot to be alive when the ANC is celebrating 100 years of its existence, Mayor Tulani Sebego of Bergville told Associated Press Television News.
The party had gained strength along with challenges, Sebego said, but it has managed to come through it to today, it is here, 100 years and I want to believe it will reach 200 years.
The stadium at Bloemfontein, upgraded to a 45,000-seater for the 2010 soccer World Cup, overflowed Sunday with dancing and singing crowds that spilled outside. Still, the celebration was not without its tinge of disappointment and even sadness about its weaknesses and failures, South African political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi said.
Unemployment hovers around 36 percent and soars to 70 percent among young people. According to the Congress of South African Trade Unions, half the country's population lives on just eight percent of the national income. Not helping the ANC's reputation are the corruption scandals involving some politicians who once fought against apartheid and now feel entitled to a financial payback, the AP wrote.
In his 90-minute speech focusing primarily on the ANC's history, Zuma confronted the problems facing the ANC, saying it needs to defeat the demon of factionalism and to take urgent and practical steps to restore the core values, stamp out factionalism and promote political discipline.
Zuma, a guerrilla fighter imprisoned at Robben Island alongside Mandela, now heads the ANC.
This is not only a celebration for the African National Congress and its members only. It is a joyous celebration for all the people of South Africa who, with the support of the continent and the world destroyed colonial oppression and apartheid, Zuma said. The ANC mobilized the South African people across the racial, gender and class divide. The ANC, a disciplined force of the left with a bias toward the poor, is also a broad church that is home to all.
Mandela, South Africa's first black president, was notably absent from the celebration due to his frailty; he is 94, just six years younger than the 100-year-old movement. Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years by the racist white government and his organization was formerly declared a terrorist group by the United States, the New York Times reported.