The ANC: Key dates

African National Congress d. Picture:Getty Images

The African National Congress (ANC), which meets from December 16-20 to elect its leader, led the fight against apartheid in South Africa and has ruled the country since 1994.

The party is deeply divided over who will succeed President Jacob Zuma, who is to stand down as ANC chief in December with a view to 2019 general elections.

The chosen party chief will become the country’s president in case of electoral victory.

Early days

On January 8, 1912, influential blacks establish the South African Native National Congress (SANNC), two years after Britain and the descendants of Dutch settlers form the Union of South Africa in which only the rights of whites are protected.

In 1923, the SANNC changes its name to the African National Congress (ANC) but remains fairly inactive.

Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu start the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) in 1943.


In 1948, the National Party wins elections and introduces apartheid. The ANCYL advocates strikes, boycotts and civil disobedience.

The ANC organises its first large “Defiance Campaign” in 1952, and tens of thousands of blacks break curfews, burn internal passports, and enter whites-only areas, risking jail.

Armed struggle

On March 21, 1960, police kill 69 people during the Sharpeville Massacre. The ANC and an offshoot are banned amid a state of emergency.

The ANC goes underground in 1961 and abandons non-violent protest. Mandela starts the military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and launches attacks.

Mandela imprisoned

In 1962-63, Mandela, Sisulu and other ANC leaders are arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The movement continues the struggle in exile from London, Dar es Salaam and Lusaka and allies itself with the Soviet bloc.

Secret talks

In the late 1980s, heavily criticised by the international community, the government begins secret talks with the ANC, which is now recognised by most countries as the legitimate representative of the black majority.

Mandela freed

In 1990, new South African president F.W. de Klerk legalises the ANC and other groups. He also frees political prisoners, including Mandela, who becomes the ANC president the next year.

Negotiations for the transition to democracy start and parliament scraps the remaining apartheid laws.

Multi-racial elections

On April 27, 1994, the ANC wins 62.6 percent of the vote in the first multi-racial elections. Mandela becomes South Africa’s first black president.

The Mbeki years

Thabo Mbeki succeeds Mandela as president in 1999 but his two terms are tarnished by allegations of abuse of power and denialist policies over AIDS.

Zuma replaces Mbeki

Zuma becomes the country’s first Zulu president in 2009 after the ANC wins 65.9 percent of the vote in the fourth general elections since the demise of apartheid.

Zuma had become ANC leader in late 2007, ousting Mbeki, who had fired him as vice-president two years earlier following corruption accusations.

Fall from grace

The ANC suffers a setback during municipal elections in 2016, taking less than 54 percent of the vote and losing an absolute majority in five of the six biggest metropolitan areas.

On March 30, 2017, Zuma sacks finance minister Pravin Gordhan in a cabinet purge and stirs animosity among senior ANC leaders.

In June the ANC welcomes an investigation by South Africa’s anti-corruption watchdog into several allies of Zuma allegedly linked to corruption at three state-owned companies. Zuma acknowledges that the ANC could lose the 2019 election.