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African National Congress

African National Congress (ANC), the oldest black (now multiracial) political organization in South Africa; founded in 1912. Prominent in its opposition to apartheid, the organization began as a nonviolent civil-rights group. In the 1940s and 50s it joined with other groups in promoting strikes and civil disobedience among the emerging urban black workforce.

The ANC was banned in 1960 and the following year initiated guerrilla attacks. In 1964 its leader, Nelson Mandela, was sentenced to life in prison, and the leadership was forced into exile. Although outlawed, the ANC became the popularly acknowledged vehicle of mass resistance to apartheid in the late 1970s and the 1980s; the training of ANC guerrillas continued in neighboring countries. Following the end of the ban on the ANC and the release of Mandela in 1990, many of its leaders returned from exile, and the ANC negotiated with the government for black enfranchisement and an end to apartheid.

In the early 1990s there were violent clashes between supporters of the ANC and Inkatha (see Buthelezi, Mangosuthu Gatsha). The ANC became a registered political party in 1994 in advance of the first South African elections open to citizens of all races. It won over 60% of the vote in the elections, and Mandela was elected president of South Africa; the ANC has continued to be the dominant party in South African politics in the years since. Thabo Mbeki succeeded Mandela as head of the ANC in 1997 and as president of South Africa in 1999.

Tensions within the ANC, largely as a result of the failure of South Africa's economic growth to benefit poorer South Africans, resulted in Mbeki's loss of the party leadership to Jacob Zuma in 2007 and his resignation as South Africa's president in 2008. ANC deputy leader Kgalema Motlanthe was elected South Africa's interim president. Following Mbeki's resignation as president, some of his ANC supporters left the party and formed the Congress of the People, but the ANC remained the nation's dominant party. Zuma succeeded Motlanthe as South Africa's president in 2009.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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