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South Africa’s ruling party must rebuild support, leader says

A man standing in a group argues with a police officer in a view from behind a police line
An African National Congress party supporter unable to gain admittance to the party’s pandemic-limited 110th birthday celebration argues with police Saturday outside the sports stadium in Polokwane where the event was held.
(Jerome Delay / Associated Press)

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the ruling party, the African National Congress, must work to regain popular support after being embroiled in corruption scandals and divided by bitter factional rivalries.

Marking the ANC’s 110th anniversary Saturday, Ramaphosa struck a somber note, emphasizing that the party of Nelson Mandela, which helped South Africa to achieve democracy, has lost voter backing.

“We must be forthright in recognizing, and deal decisively with, the reality that ANC structures are in a poor state,” Ramaphosa said. “Many of them are focused on internal organizational conflicts, factionalism and furthering the self-interest of individual leaders rather than the aspirations of communities they are meant to serve.”

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The anniversary event held in Polokwane in the northern Limpopo province comes days after a state-backed judicial investigation revealed how some of the party’s top officials had benefited from corruption.

The ANC is also sharply divided between those backing Ramaphosa, who is president of the party, and those loyal to former President Jacob Zuma, who has been embroiled in legal battles since he left office in 2018.

Zuma’s refusal to appear before the commission of inquiry saw him sentenced to 15 months in prison in July last year, which sparked riots that resulted in more than 340 deaths and widespread property damage in the KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces.

The ANC came to power in 1994 when the country’s first democratic elections were held and Mandela became the first Black president.

However its support has declined in recent years and it received less than 50% of votes cast in local elections in October, its worst-ever performance at the polls.

Ramaphosa said many who supported the ANC had punished it by not voting.

“Many citizens demonstrated their dissatisfaction with the ANC and its performance by staying away from the polls,” he said Saturday.

The ANC is set to hold its national elective conference later this year, where Ramaphosa is expected to seek a second term as the party’s leader. But he faces significant opposition from those still loyal to Zuma.

The African National Congress was founded in 1912 to oppose white minority rule and to campaign for Black South Africans to have full democratic rights.

Just 2,000 attended the ANC’s anniversary event, the maximum allowed at outdoor public gatherings under COVID-19 restrictions.


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