ANC 100th ANNIVERSARY – Brainstorming session in Berlin: A report by Eric Singh ANA Senior Editor

Ambassador Stofile, Prof Kgositsile and Ms Andrea Kuhn, Counsellor South African Embassy in Berlin/Photo: Karin Singh
The African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa will celebrate its 100th anniversary on 8 January 2012. Preparations are in full swing to mark this important year in the South African calendar. Since May 1994, the ANC has led the national cabinet in a new democratic dispensation after the demise of the apartheid system.

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The centenary is a world celebration. It is an important narrative of the struggle for freedom during the 20th century. It is a recollection of the contribution of the world to the eradication of the draconian system of apartheid. It is a celebration of humanity and friendship across boundaries of race, creed, and geographical location. It is a celebrity of unity among people of the world, from all walks of life against evil; because never has the world been united in one resolute manner as it did during the struggle for freedom in South Africa.

Bearing this in mind, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation – FES (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung) associated to the Social Democratic Party of Germany – SPD, in collaboration with the ANC, organised a brainstorming session in Berlin on 5 May 2011 to work out plans on ways to discuss and contribute possible ways for the celebrations. Around 40 people gathered at the FES buildings in Berlin and bringing together, for the first time in 20 years, anti-apartheid campaigners from the two German states – FRG and GDR, a division which result after the end of World War II. Germany was re-united in 1990.

Ms Renate Tenbusch, Axel Schmidt and Rev Ben Khumalo-Seegelken lecturer Oldenburg University/Photo: Karin Singh

The ANC was represented by South African Poet Laureate and Special Adviser to the Minister of Culture, Professor Keorapetse (Willie) Kgositsile, and Ms Thuli Siko, National Coordinator for the Centenary Task Team. The sessions were chaired by Mr Axel Schmidt, FES Representative in South Africa, and Frau Renate Tenbusch, Africa Department of FES in Berlin. Also present was Rev Makhenkesi Stofile, South Africa’s Ambassador-Designate to Germany. Your scribe used the opportunity to have a chat with the Poet Laureate.

Explaining the purpose of the visit to Berlin, Prof Kgositsile said:

“This visit has been on the cards for the past year. We felt strongly that since this part of the world gave us such solid support that we should renew these links which seemed to sag after 1994. The success of this gathering is the general sentiment that we are going to work closely together and a number of areas have been identified.

For instance, cultural exchange with the youth through the arts; popularise the memory of the liberation struggle; and the current situation. Organising of competitions in schools thereby making the history of struggle, and the forces that made it possible, to the young people”.

Explaining the preparation for this mammoth undertaking, the ANC Representative commented:

) Ms Thuli Siko, National Coordinator/Photo: Karin Singh
“The National Centenary Celebration Task Team was set up to co-ordinate the preparations for the activities next year. That includes gathering information and support from our friends all over the world who helped the ANC in its fight against the vicious apartheid regime. The Task Team meets every three weeks and makes decisions and suggestions pertaining to the centenary; develops strategies and ensures that the other sub-committees are carrying out the work they have been deployed to do. There are a number of sub-committees charged with various tasks.

The Programme sub-committee whose work is almost through, because the calendar for 2012 has been completed. Then we have the History Book sub-committee. Much work has been done in this respect but it is not yet ready for print. Initially, the Task Team had envisaged it as a popular readable, but serious book with contributions from a number of researchers and scholars.

Unfortunately, we realised that it could become too cumbersome. Therefore, a limited number of comrades have been charged with carrying out this task. They are three ANC historians – Dr Pallo Jordan, who served in the cabinets of Presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, Mac Maharaj who served a term in the Mandela cabinet, and Prof Ben Turok, ANC veteran and member of Parliament. This book will be launched on the 8th January 2012, 100th anniversary of the ANC by President Jacob Zuma in the City of Manguang (Bloemfontein).

We also have a Content and Copyright sub-committee. The Music sub-committee is responsible for tracing all the songs and other music that were composed and sung throughout the world and which played such an important role in the fight against apartheid internationally. Here, I must pay tribute to my fellow South African Comrade the late James Madhlope Philip who established a number of choirs in England and here in Germany. James died in exile. I am glad to welcome his widow Ms Andrea Siemsen, who is present at this gathering. Finance, Media, Archive & Data are some of the other sub-committees assigned to make the Centenary an unforgettable event”.

Liz Crossley, South African Artist, Ms Andrea Siemsen widow of James Phillip and Detlev Reichel a veteran of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in West Berlin/Photo: Karin Singh
Professor Kgotsisile continued: “The ANC believes that the Centenary celebrations should not be confined to a year of fun and frolic and merry-making only. The point is what comes after 2012, precisely in terms of our memory and where we are going to in the future.

We also think in terms of what brought us here to Berlin. Solidarity work, beginning particularly in the 1960s when the late President O. R. Tambo was sent out of the country to establish our foreign mission. That effort led to the forming of solidarity groups all over the world. Even here in Germany. The solidarity work was very dynamic and aimed at our national liberation for the support we got was directly in connection with the struggle”.

“But”, said the Poet Laureate, “since 1994, the challenges are different. They have changed. The momentum that we had established up to that point slackened, partly because our focus nationally, shifted. We realise that perhaps despite the demands of post-1994, that dynamism should have continued, because the continuation of human solidarity is important. We believe that because of the amount of work that went on here (Germany) there are probably lots of material – in terms of literature, documents, and other stuff related to that portion of our history which would be useful to us.. There is the question of archives which are in possession of various support groups here and in South Africa and would be useful to learn aspects of our struggle of which we know very little. That is why we need to see to it that the Centenary offers us a platform to start that important educational process and the continuation of our living memory”.

Eric Singh, Rev Stofile and Prof Kgositsile/Photo: Karin Singh

Asked about the envisaged programme for the Centenary, the ANC Representative explained:

“On 8 January 2012, a year long programme unfolds. Each month will honour an ANC President beginning with Dr. J: l. Dube, who led the organisation from 1912 – 1917 right up to Madiba (Nelson Mandela), when that phase of the struggle was over, would be highlighted. Activities will place emphasis on important moments in the unfolding of our struggle.

The year long celebration will take place all over the country although the main event is due to be held in Manguang on the site where the founding fathers met and launched the organisation in 1912, precisely where the Heritage Institute will be built. At the moment there is no heritage institution which one can say houses everything about the struggle, or where you can go and do a multi-pronged research on the history of South Africa. That institution would contain a museum which is not only a question of housing dead artefacts and so on; library facilities; archives; a research centre; it would also have a garden with statutes of a number of outstanding figures in the struggle history; lecture rooms; a conference centre. In addition to the administration building there would be a remembrance wall and a few other things”.

Rev Karl Schmidt - founder of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Federal Republic of Germany/Photo: Karin Singh
Prof Keorapetse Kgotsisile concluded: “Many international guests have been invited to attend and we are also hoping that many African Heads of States will be able to make the journey to share with us this historic moment. Of great satisfaction to us will be the attendance of members of the SADC (Southern African Development Community) because many leaders of our neighbours were participants at the founding conference of the ANC in 1912. Therefore, the descendants of these leaders are expected to participate in this great event”.

The brainstorming session organised by FES in Berlin is an important contribution to the Centenary of the ANC. Even more important is that it made the meeting of the solidarity groups from both sides of the former German-Divide possible. It augurs well for the Centenary celebrations to be extended to Germany next year.