African National Congress (ANC)

Founded Date

The ANC2 in the North West province has had  along and interesting history.  Firstly, several significant people, such as Silas and Modiri Molema and other members of the Barolong chiefly elite in Mafikeng were in the forefront of launching the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) and establishing its presence in the region after the entrenchment of white rule in 1910. This also involved laying some of the theoretical and intellectual foundations of what became the ANC in 1923. The ANC placed its faith in raising political consciousness and in  mobilising support through enlisting the support of the region's chiefs (dikgosi) . By the early 1920s the ANC had also begun to open branches in some of the dorps in the former western Transvaal such as Lichtenburg and Ventersdorp.  

However, this groundswell of initial support for the ANC among the western Transvaal’s predominantly rural population began to wane by the mid-1920s. This was due in part to the ANC’s inability to reverse the damaging effects of the 1913 Land Act, and the fact that some African peasants in the western Transvaal in particular, were able to extend their landholdings by acquiring land outside the scheduled areas set aside for African occupation under the Land Acts. The ANC lost ground to the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union and the Communist Party of South African during the 1920's.

A second salient feature of the history of the ANC in the province turns on the growing conditions of hardship in the African reserves, which created a restless rural peasantry, many of whom were reduced to wage labour. Many of the migrants who worked on the Witwatersrand and in other urban areas became politicised and spread these ideas to their families and residents back in the rural areas.  In some cases, as in the Zeerust district, the chiefs were looked upon to lead opposition to legislation that was seen to marginalise rural people, in particular women who were now required to carry passes. In other instances, the reserve-based inhabitants turned against the dikgosi who were seen as stooges of the government.  In Zeerust the revolt of 1956- typifies the anger of rural baTswana against the Nationalist government's policies.  Recent evidence suggests that the ANC was active in the Hurutshe reserve and had a part in the organisation and direction of the resistance though it was not able to offer sustained support throughout the period of resistance.

A  third key component concerns the geographic location of the revolt for it is critical to the evolution of the ANC in the province as a formidable political opposition to the apartheid state. Not only did it raise levels of political consciousness and support for the organisation, but after the banning of the ANC and its enforced exile the Zeerust/ Lehurutshe border landscape became one of the most important crossing points for people leaving the country or returning to it from Botswana. Thus, the ANC was able to enlist the willing support of a cadre of informants, guides and hosts to help recruits to cross the border without detection through this  ‘Pipeline’ inot Botswana.  Similarly, on the western margins of the province, the ANC was able to build an effective underground around Vryburg and Kuruman, the so-called ‘Kgalahari underground’. Again its proximity to Botswana itself was a key factor in linking the ANC in exile with its structures inside the country. Critical too was the co-operation and support provided by Botswana as a Frontline State from the early 1960s to 1994 .

From the late 1970s there was a marked increase in the activities of the ANC's armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) across much of the North-West Province. There is perhaps insufficient recognition given to MK’s role in the demise of the apartheid system, largely due to lack of firm evidence. However, MK's frequent military encounters in today's NW Province would indicate that it had a not inconsiderable role in the overall struggle against apartheid.   

From 1977 the ANC faced a particular challenge in Bophuthatswana, which was implacably opposed to the organisation. As the collapse of white majority government became imminent, Mangope's regime tried to prolong its existence by espousing a federal solution for the new political dispensation. The ANC, arguably, gave Mangope too much leeway in the negotiation procress.  The resistance to Bophuthatswana mounted by elements within the bantustan that eventually led to the overthrow of the regime is nevertheless a fundamental component in the fight against apartheid, and the objectives of many ANC sympathisers and activists were dedicated to this end.

Lastly the ANC in the newly formed North-West Province faced a specific set of difficulties and obstacles in effecting a successful transition to democracy. It needs to be borne in mind that South Africa’s transition was essentially a compromise between popular movements and the apartheid state, and that this required careful consideration of the particular balance of forces and residual interests in the various regions of the country. The authoritarian legacy of the former Bophuthatswana and the presence of avowedly racist political elements within the white population meant that the ANC leadership had to steer a middle course in order to achieve reconciliation. It also had to unbundle the old Bophuthatswana bureaucracy and create a new civil service committed to its agenda of democratic transformation. Much of this was achieved through the good work of the transitional authorities appointed to take charge of events in the defunct Bophuthatswana. The new administration was successful in shifting the terrain of local politics towards a more open and democratic society.

However few would argue that the transition from liberation movement to the governing party in a liberal democracy has been an easy or smooth one, and it has been no different in the North-West Province. The shortcomings of the ANC have been exposed in two ways – through a failure to provide services for those at the bottom of the social scale, and through problems of corruption and factionalism among certain sections of the movement’s representatives. This has led, on occasions, to violence and even asassinations. The Marikana shootings also were a blot on the organisation's reputation. Certainly the premiers of the province (and other senior figures in government) have acted to punish those responsible and it is hoped that the relatively newly installed ANC provincial leadership can reverse these damaging aspects of ANC governance.

Up until the 2016 local elections the ANC in the province  enjoyed massive electoral support. However, this majority is now likey to be eroded unless the ANC can find a way of redressing the failures of its recent past and expanding its general competency to govern effectively. 


South Africa's North-West province: A Guide to its History and Heritage. © 2017

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