The ruling party celebrates its 110th anniversary while engulfed in bitter factional competition and allegations of corruption.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has 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 competition.
In celebration of the ANC’s 110th anniversary on Saturday, Ramaphosa struck a grim note, emphasizing that the party of Nelson Mandela who helped South Africa to achieve democracy lost voter support.
“We must directly acknowledge the reality that ANC structures are in a weak state, and deal decisively,” Ramaphosa said.
“Many of them are focused on internal organizational conflicts, faction formation and promoting the self-interest of individual leaders rather than the aspirations of communities they are meant to serve.”
The memorial service held in Polokwane in the northern Limpopo province comes days after a state-sponsored judicial inquiry revealed how some of the party’s top officials had benefited from corruption.
The ANC is also sharply divided between those who support Ramaphosa, who is also president of the party, and those who are 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 led to his being sentenced to 15 months in prison in July last year, which caused riots which resulted in widespread looting and destruction of property in the KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces.
More than 340 people were killed in the riot.
Melanie Verwoerd, a former member of parliament for the ANC, told Al Jazeera that the ruling party was “clearly struggling”.
“[The ANC now] is a very, very different party than the 1994 ANC party. At the moment, the party is struggling organizationally, ”Verwoerd said.
“They are also struggling financially due to a new law that has come in regarding political party funding. “They were basically bankrupt and could not pay their workers for a very long time,” she added.
The ANC came to power in 1994 when the country’s first democratic elections were held and Mandela became the first Black president.
However, his support has declined over the past few years and it has received less than 50 percent of the votes cast in local elections in October, his worst performance ever at the ballot box.
Ramaphosa said many who supported the ANC punished it by not voting.
“Many citizens have shown their dissatisfaction with the ANC and its performance by staying away from the ballot box,” he said on Saturday.
Modibe Modiba, a co-founder and host of The Insight Factor – a digital media platform, told Al Jazeera that the political dynamics of South Africa are changing and the ANC is being held accountable.
“The ANC has found it very difficult to distance itself from the corruption that is happening in the country because the party itself is an integral part of the corruption that is happening,” Modibe said.
“The ANC also finds itself in factional fighting. The members of the party are no longer united, they fight among themselves. “We have seen state institutions being used against the former president of the organization,” Modibe said.
The ANC will hold its national election 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 who are still loyal to Zuma.
The ANC was founded in 1912 to oppose white minority government and to strive for black South Africans to have full democratic rights.
Only 2,000 attended the ANC’s commemorative event due to COVID-19 measures restricting outdoor public gatherings to 2,000 people.