South Africa’s governing party celebrates 104 years amid growing disaffection

South Africa’s governing African National Congress celebrates its 104th anniversary this year, ahead of crucial local government elections. Reuters/Mike Hutchings

South Africa’s governing African National Congress celebrates its 104th birthday in 2016. In keeping with tradition, the party’s president Jacob Zuma will deliver the annual January 8 statement, mapping out the party’s main activities for the year ahead.

Historically, the statement has set the tone for government and informed the president of the country’s annual state of the nation address, at the opening of Parliament in February.

The event will be keenly watched to, among other things, gauge what the party considers to be the main challenges facing the country; and how it plans to lead in navigating them.

Among the reasons Zuma’s speech will be closely watched include:

  • It comes in the same week that racism dominated national discourse. There have been numerous calls for it to be either criminalised or punished more harshly.

  • The devastating blow to the economy caused by his recent firing of Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene. Zuma’s handling of the issue saw mounting calls for his dismissal.

  • Upcoming municipal elections, which come amid declining electoral support.

  • Rising disaffection with the slow pace of change, as shown by soaring popular protests about poor delivery on key socioeconomic issues. Unemployment, poverty and inequality remain stubbornly high.

  • Growing anger at rampant government corruption, culminating in marches by civil society.

  • Recent student protests against rising university fees as well as against racism and vestiges of colonialism in curricula.

  • Stubbornly high inequality, poverty and unemployment.

  • Rising factionalism that has weakened the governing tripartite alliance with the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party.