SQUINTING into the fierce African sun and flapping air through his gold, green and black ANC shirt, David Mohlakoana took a swing at the ball and then raised a clenched fist in celebration.
Thirty years ago, he worked at Bloemfontein Golf Club as a caddy. Now, aged 65, he is a successful entrepreneur and at the weekend was one of hundreds of golfers who stumped up R25000 each to play in a tournament teeing off the centenary celebrations of Africa’s oldest liberation movement.
An anticipated 100000 politicians, members and supporters of the ANC were in Bloemfontein, the former Boer capital of the Orange Free State where, on January 8 1912, a group of black professionals formed the South African Native National Congress, as the party was first named.
Golf might seem a peculiar way to mark a milestone for a socialist movement whose leaders became known worldwide for their struggle on behalf of the marginalised against white minority rule.
But Mohlakoana insists it shows how far the ANC has come.
“There are some very wealthy people who play here – big, big men,” he confided, eyeing the group following his, all gold watches and designer sunglasses.
“Previously this was a sport of alienation of black people but now we are members of the elite and can play like everyone else.”
Signs of that elite were not hard to find as the ANC rolled into town. Mercedes, Rolls-Royces and Range Rovers, some with chauffeurs wilting in the 35°C heat, jostled for space in the car park.
On Saturday 1500 of those who turned out for the celebration were treated to a seven-hour gala dinner. For traditionalists, there was a ceremonial slaughter when President Jacob Zuma, who is also ANC president, rolled up his sleeves to dispatch a bull, two goats and a pair of chickens.
The party was to spend much of its R100-million budget for the year-long celebrations at the weekend, and questions are being asked about its propriety.
Since its ascent to power in 1994, the ANC has presided over steady economic growth, a drop in violent crime and the provision of basic homes and services to some of the country’s poorest.
But half of South Africa’s young people are out of work and half the population lives on just 8% of the national income.
About 16.6% of the adult population are infected with HIV/ Aids and life expectancy has slid to 49 years. Much of the earlier gratitude towards the ANC has given way to disillusionment and anger that former freedom fighters are growing rich on backhanders and government contracts while many continue to live in poverty.
Why, one commentator asked, did the ANC not spend its R100-million on building 100 schools, 100 health clinics, 100 roads as monuments to its longevity, instead of feeding and entertaining 1500 fat cats?
In Mangaung township, the grim Bloemfontein settlement that was home to the ANC’s founders, there was little sign of the party going on across the train tracks.
Dineo Malefane, 24, washing cars on one of the main thoroughfares, said business had been brisk.
“They’ve all been coming to get their smart cars cleaned. This isn’t really a celebration for us. It’s for them. What have we got to celebrate?”
There is anger too over the ANC’s “hijacking” of history and the struggle against apartheid, which it fought alongside the church, other parties and civic groups.
Andile Mngxitama, a radical Africanist and newspaper columnist, said history served the ANC as a “fig leaf, an excuse for having done little since”.
“The ANC can celebrate all it wants to – my problem is that it is feeding people a diet of history to avoid having to account for its inability to serve society now,” he said – The Sunday Telegraph