Mail and Guardian
History may be written by the victors, but who gets top billing? South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, one of the most famous political movements in history, has been accused of “airbrushing people out” of the liberation past as it prepares to celebrate its centenary.
The ANC, the oldest liberation movement in Africa, turns 100 years old next Sunday, the cue for year-long commemorations costing R100-million.
While no one questions the central role of Nelson Mandela and other ANC leaders in winning freedom from racial apartheid in 1994, rival political organisations and various commentators say the anniversary will be manipulated to sideline the contributions of others.
“The ANC are rewriting history,” said Allister Sparks, a veteran journalist and analyst and the co-author of Tutu: The Authorised Portrait. “They’re airbrushing people out. I don’t know of a street named after Desmond Tutu, and he was effectively the leader [of the anti-apartheid movement] for 15 years. I’m not trying to belittle the ANC, but they didn’t do it all.”
The ANC was founded at a meeting of black activists and intellectuals in a Bloemfontein church in 1912. It resisted white minority rule, was banned in 1960 and launched an armed struggle a year later. After the arrest of Mandela and others, its leaders continued their work in exile and lobbied for international sanctions that ultimately helped topple the apartheid regime. Mandela was released in 1990, and when the first democratic, multiracial elections were held four years later the ANC won by a landslide.
Today visitors to South Africa could be forgiven for thinking the credit belongs to the ANC alone. Johannesburg, for example, has a Mandela House museum, Nelson Mandela Bridge, the Mandela Theatre and a six-metre-high bronze statue of Mandela in Nelson Mandela Square. But this narrative overlooks the role of others in events such as the Sharpeville massacre and the Soweto student uprising as well as that of churches, trade unions and giant personalities, including black nationalist leader Robert Sobukwe, liberal opposition MP Helen Suzman and Black Consciousness founder Steve Biko. Read more…