South Africa's governing party since the establishment of majority rule in May 1994, the African National Congress was founded to defend the rights of the black majority on January 8, 1912 in the city of Bloemfontein, and counted poet and author Sol Plaatje among its founder members.
Formed initially to oppose the passage of the 1913 Land Act, the ANC from its inception represented both traditional and modern elements, from tribal chiefs to church and community bodies and educated black professionals, though women were only admitted as affiliate members from 1931 and as full members in 1943.
The formation of the ANC Youth League in 1944 by Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo heralded a new generation committed to building non-violent mass action against the legal underpinnings of white supremacy. In 1947 the ANC allied with the Natal Indian Congress and Transvaal Indian congress, broadening the basis of its opposition to the government.
The return of an Afrikaner-led National Party government by the overwhelmingly white electorate in 1948 signalled the advent of the policy of Apartheid (Afrikaans, "separateness" of the races, or political and social segregation of black and white). During the 1950s non-whites were moved from electoral rolls, residence and mobility laws were tightened and political activities restricted.
After undertaking a campaign against the Pass Laws (requiring blacks to carry an identity card at all times to justify their presence in "white" areas) in which 69 protesters were shot by police (March 1960), was banned from political activity.
[1952 Defiance Campaign, 1955 Freedom Charter, 1956-61 Treason Trial] to follow - 19.12.01
In 1960 the leader of the ANC, Albert Luthuli, won the Nobel Peace Prize, a feat that would be repeated in 1993 by Nelson Mandela. The 1960s also saw a radical splinter movement emerging that eventually became the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC).
[ANC in exile; MK 1961; Soweto 1976; BC; 1984 Constitution and UDF to follow]
With apartheid ever more evidently untenable, the ANC and PAC were unbanned by president F.W. de Klerk in February 1990. In April 1994, the ANC won a landslide victory in the country's first non-racial elections and the party has ruled the country in a series of voluntary coalitions with the New National Party and the Inkatha Freedom Party, under presidents Nelson Mandela and (since June 1999) Thabo Mbeki. It also rules eight of the country's nine provinces.
The ANC can be described as the parliamentary wing of a tripartite alliance between itself, the Conference of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Communist Party. By 2001, this alliance was evidently showing signs of strain as the ANC moved to more right-wing economic policies than its alliance partners were prepared to acommodate.