Africa Notes: The ANC in Transition: From Symbol to Political Party - June 1990
June 20, 1990
The unbanning of the African National Congress and other South African political organizations on February 2, 1990 opened a complex political process within the antiapartheid movement. Organizations that developed over the last 30 years in exile or clandestinity were faced with the need to reform so as to become legal participants in an aboveboard political game.
The difficulties of such a transformation are great, and nowhere as evident as in the case of the ANC. The oldest and most important of the country's political organizations, the ANC is now engaged in the daunting task of consolidating into a single structure the broad but chaotic network of groups that has carried on the antiapartheid struggle within South Africa since the Congress was outlawed in 1960. The task is made more pressing by the imminence of political negotiations with the government headed by President F.W. de Klerk. The hand of the ANC will be strengthened in the negotiating process if it can present itself as a united, well-organized entity.
The reality of the ANC as of mid-1990 falls short of the "united, well-organized entity" prescription. The organization has three distinct faces: (1) It comes to the table as a strong symbol of opposition to the apartheid system. (2) Its exile heritage is reflected in a bureaucratic apparatus, a hierarchical concept of organization, and an aging leadership. (3) It is also connected to a broad, effervescent, effective internal mass movement that is loosely structured.