Image: A man in military uniform walks in front of posters depicting faces of former ANC presidents
Siphiwe Sibeko  /  Reuters
A man in military uniform walks past posters depicting the faces of former presidents of the African National Congress, including Nelson Mandela, in Bloemfontein, South Africa, on Sunday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 1/8/2012 8:32:29 AM ET 2012-01-08T13:32:29

Tens of thousands of chanting and dancing revelers waved the green and gold colors of the African National Congress as Africa's oldest liberation movement celebrated its 100th anniversary Sunday, though many South Africans say the party hasn't delivered on its promises since taking power in 1994.

A dozen African leaders and more former heads of state along with African kings and chieftains attended a midnight ceremony where President Jacob Zuma lit a flame, expected to stay alight the entire year, at the red brick, tin-roofed Wesleyan church where black intellectuals and activists founded the party in 1912.

Absent because of his frailty was Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president who is just six years younger than his movement. The world icon was jailed for 27 years by the racist white government and his organization was declared a terrorist group by the United States.

Video: Mandela wished a happy 93rd birthday (on this page)

Joy at the ANC's leading role in ending white minority rule in 1994 was tinged with sadness over the its failure to bring a better life to most South Africans, and corruption scandals that have embroiled its members in recent years.

"It means a lot to be alive when the ANC is celebrating 100 years of its existence," Mayor Tulani Sebego of Bergville told Associated Press Television News.

He said the party had gained strength along with challenges, "but it has managed to come through it to today, it is here, 100 years and I want to believe it will reach 200 years."

Reuters reported that Sunday's 100 million rand ($12.3 million) commemoration included a huge banquet for the invited heads of state and guests, a splurge of celebrity music shows and even a golf tournament.

The stadium at Bloemfontein, upgraded to a 45,000-seater for the 2010 soccer World Cup, overflowed with crowds that spilled outside, dancing and singing under a blazing sun.

Slideshow: Nelson Mandela: A revolutionary's life (on this page)

Dozens of buses lined up to drop off celebrants waiting for an afternoon address by Zuma.

Zuma has said the ANC will rule "until Jesus comes" but the next few years will be critical ones for the party that has won a landslide victory in every election for the last 18 years.

Inequality
The ANC describes itself as the home of the working class and the poor, but inequality has grown in recent years even as a small black elite around the party has become multimillionaires flaunting lavish lifestyles.

South Africa has slid to 64th in the world in Transparency International's latest index of perceived corruption, from 38th in 2001.

Unemployment hovers around 36 percent and soars to 70 percent among young people. Half the country's population lives on just 8 percent of the national income, according to the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

A warning sign came from the town of Clarens, where stone-throwing protesters smashed the windows of a bus that was to transport supporters to the centenary celebrations in Bloemfontein, 160 miles away.

Protesters, demanding ANC municipal leaders be fired for failing to deliver basic services like tap water, stoned vehicles and blocked the road to Bloemfontein, Talk Radio 702 reported.

Such protests have become daily events across the country, where political liberation has not been matched by economic emancipation as Africa's largest economy remains in the control of the white minority.

Video: First lady: Meeting Mandela was ‘surreal’ (on this page)

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his part in fighting apartheid and is attending the celebrations, recently called for a tax on all whites who benefited from apartheid.

"Apartheid is not over," American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said after the church ceremony, "the agricultural apartheid, the manufacturing apartheid, the banking apartheid, the shipping apartheid, the layers beneath the skin color are now the next century's challenge."

'Serious problems'
Former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, whose country was bombed by South African warplanes attacking ANC guerrilla training camps during the struggle for liberation, issued a warning at a banquet Saturday night.

"Comrade Zuma, you have more serious problems than any of us. You are faced with the land question. I want to remind the South African youth that two wrongs can never make a right," he said.

The ANC government has admitted its failure to return white-owned farmland to blacks — a key issue of the liberation struggle. In 1994 it set a goal of redistributing 30 percent of agricultural land to blacks by 2014 — targeting a total of nearly 61 million acres. Instead, it has bought only about 6 million hectares, of which a third has been resold by aspiring black farmers who failed to get enough support.

Ninety percent of farmland here remains in white hands. Hundreds of white farmers have been killed over the years, and they in turn are accused of brutality and killings of black farm laborers.

Image: ANC supporters hold a picture of Thabo Mbeki in Bloemfontein, South Africa
Siphiwe Sibeko  /  Reuters
African National Congress supporters hold a picture of former South African President Thabo Mbeki during the party's centenary celebrations in Bloemfontein, South Africa, on Sunday.

Whites are not the only ones tied up in land disputes. Mandela's grandson, Mandla, who attended the celebration, faces allegations of land-grabbing by families in Mvezo, the village where Mandela was born. A court will hear the case later this month. Villagers charge Mandla Mandela, a traditional chief, of illegally expropriating their land and removing grave sites to build a multimillion-dollar hotel and stadium.

Another ANC leader embroiled in controversy, Youth League leader Julius Malema, told a weekend rally around the celebrations that he hopes within 10 years blacks will control the mines and farms and whites will be their domestic workers and farm laborers.

Malema has denied newspaper reports that he called ANC leaders "baboons" in a brazen attack at another weekend rally. Malema reportedly said ANC leaders were living "the high life" while most South Africans struggle to survive on breadcrumbs. Malema himself has been criticized for building a $2 million mansion, with people asking where the money comes from.

Timeline: Life of Nelson Mandela (on this page)

As he spoke at the rally, people in the crowd made the football substitution sign — indicating their desire for a change of leadership, the Sunday Tribune reported. Malema used the Youth League's power to help oust former President Thabo Mbeki, opening the way for Zuma to replace him in 2009, but now wants to see someone else lead the party.

That fight will be fought at the ANC congress in December in Bloemfontein, a city in the heart of the country that also is called Mangaung.

In a sign of possible reconciliation, Mbeki is attending the three-day bash in Bloemfontein, the first major ANC meeting he has been seen at since his fall from grace amid accusations he was high-handed, too cerebral and removed from ordinary South Africans.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Photos: Nelson Mandela: A revolutionary's life

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  1. Nelson Mandela was born in a small village in South Africa's eastern Cape in 1918, the youngest son of a counselor to the chief of the Thembu clan. He is pictured in about 1950, six years after he founded the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League with Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu.

    Mandela died on Dec. 5, 2013, at the age of 95. (Apic - Hulton Archive via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Mandela, center, meets with fellow ANC Youth League leaders Walter Sisulu, left, and Harrison Motlana during the "Defiance Campaign" trial at the Supreme Court in Johannesburg in 1952. The campaign encouraged people to defy the apartheid laws, a system of strict racial segregation meant to ensure the continued economic and political dominance of white South Africans. Mandela was given a suspended prison sentence. (Jurgen Schadeberg / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Mandela (2nd from right) returns to court in 1956. Alongside 155 other activists Mandela was charged with high treason, but the charges against him were dropped after a four-year trial. (Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Mandela married his second wife Winnie Madikizela in 1958, and they went on to have two daughters. The marriage ended in divorce in 1996. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Mandela gives a speech to the African Congress in 1961. The ANC had been outlawed the previous year and Mandela went underground, leaving South Africa in 1962 to undergo military training and gather support abroad. (Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Returning to South Africa, Mandela was captured and sentenced to five years for incitement and illegally leaving the country. In 1964 he was among eight men sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia trial after being convicted of conspiracy and sabotage. In this picture taken in June 1964, the eight men leave the Palace of Justice in Pretoria, their fists raised in defiance through the barred windows of the prison van. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Mandela's daughter Zinzi, center, and other Cape Town University students stage a demonstration on August 29, 1985 demandting the release of jailed ANC activists. (Gideon Mendel / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Winnie Mandela raises her fist in a black power salute on July 17, 1988, as she announces that a massive pop concert will be held to mark the 70th birthday of her jailed husband. As Mandela languished in prison, the international community tightened the sanctions first imposed on South Africa's apartheid regime in 1967. In 1990, President FW de Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC. (Wendy Schwegmann / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A jubilant Sowetan holds up a newspaper announcing Mandela's release from prison at a mass rally in Soweto on Feb. 11, 1990. (Trevor Samson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. After more than 27 years in detention, Mandela walks out of the Victor-Verster Prison in Paarl on Feb. 11, 1990, accompanied by his wife Winnie. (Greg English / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Two days after his release, Mandela addresses a rally attended by over 100 000 people at Soccer City Stadium in Soweto on Feb. 13, 1990. "The march towards freedom and justice is irreversible," he told the crowd. (Walter Dhladhla / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Mandela and FW de Klerk, right, address the media following breakthrough talks between the ANC and the government at the Groote Schuur Estate in Cape Town on May 5, 1990. (Benny Gool / Oryx Media Archive via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Mandela acknowledges the applause during a speech to the United Nations in New York on June 22, 1990. Mandela urged the U.N. to maintain sanctions against South Africa until apartheid was abolished. (Don Emmert / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Mandela greets supporters on July 22, 1990 as he holds up high the keys of a Mercedes-Benz car that was especially built and gifted to him by workers at a plant in Mdantsana, a black township near East London. The vehicle became known as the Madiba Merc, after Mandela's clan name. (Walter Dhladhla / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Nelson and Winnie Mandela join a group of clergymen and embassy officials on a visit to the Tokoza township on Dec. 12, 1990, in an effort to bring peace to the area where 83 people had lost their lives in clashes between Zulu and Xhosa factions in the previous five days. (Walter Dhladhla / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway on Dec. 10, 1993. De Klerk would go on to serve as one of Mandela's deputy presidents. (Gerard Julien / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Mandela campaigning in Mmabatho on March, 15, 1994 in the lead-up to South Africa's first democratic and multiracial general election. (Walter Dhladhla / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Mandela smiles broadly as he casts his vote in Oshlange, a black township near Durban, in the historic election on April 27, 1994. (Walter Dhladhla / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Mandela takes the oath on May 10, 1994, during his inauguration in Pretoria as the country's first black president. "The time for the healing of the wounds has come," Mandela said. "The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us." (Walter Dhladhla / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Mandela congratulates South Africa's rugby captain François Pienaar before handing him the William Webb trophy after his team's victory over New Zealand in the final of the Rugby World Cup at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on June 24, 1995. "It was on that day that he captured the hearts of white South Africa," said the author John Carlin, who wrote a book, later turned into an Oscar-nominated movie, about the significance of Mandela's embrace of the largely-white rugby team. (Jean-Pierre Muller / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Mandela and Pope John Paul II listen to national anthems after meeting at Johannesburg International Airport on Sept. 16, 1995, at the start of the pope's first official visit to South Africa. (Luciano Mellace / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Mandela lays a brick at the Rolihlahla primary school in Ikhutseng, Warrenton, in the Northern Cape Province, on Aug. 31, 1996. Mandela's government launched a major reconstruction and development programme in an attempt to address South Africa's socioeconomic problems, but poor housing, crime and unemployment continued to blight the country. (Anna Zieminski / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Mandela shows U.S. President Bill Clinton Cell No. 5 at Robben Island, where Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years, on March 27, 1998. Clinton lauded Mandela for surviving the experience without "having his heart turned into stone." (Pool via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. On his 80th birthday, July 18, 1998, Mandela married Graca Machel, the widow of former Mozambican President Samora Machel. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, right, hands Mandela the five-volume report produced by his Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on Oct. 29, 1998. The report revealed human rights abuse by various political parties during apartheid. Accepting the report, Mandela acknowledged that the wounds of the period of repression and resistance were too deep to have been healed by the TRC alone. (Walter Dhladhla / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Mandela retired from public office after serving five years as president. On June 16, 1999 he attended the inauguration of his successor Thabo Mbeki, left, at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. (Odd Andersen / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Mandela hugs Babalwa Tembani, 20, who was infected with the HIV virus after being raped by her uncle at the age of 14, on a visit to the Nolungile Clinic in Khayelitsha, Cape Town on Dec. 12, 2002. In 2005 Mandela's eldest son Makgatho died of an AIDS-related illness. Announcing Makgatho's death, Mandela said "Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because [that is] the only way to make it appear like a normal illness." (Anna Zieminski / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Mandela holds the World Cup trophy alongside Desmond Tutu on May 15, 2004 in Zurich, Switzerland, after South Africa won the right to host the soccer tournament in 2010. Mandela played a key role in South Africa's bid for the event, and appeared at the closing ceremony. (Franck Fife / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Mandela celebrates his 86th birthday flanked by his wife Graca Machel, left, and ex-wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela, right, in his home town of Qunu in the Eastern Cape on July 18, 2004. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Mandela celebrates his 89th birthday with a group of young people at the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in Johannesburg on July 24, 2007. After his retirement from politics Mandela remained involved in social issues through the Children's Fund and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, a charity set up in 1999. (Alexander Joe / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Brian May performs at the 46664 concert in celebration of Nelson Mandela's life, held at Hyde Park in London on June 27, 2008. The event was organized to raise funds for Nelson Mandela's HIV/AIDS "46664" campaign, named after his prison number. Exactly 46,664 people were expected to attend the event, which also celebrated the former South African president's 90th birthday on July 18. (© Andrew Winning / Reuters / REUTERS) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. With his wife at his side, Mandela blows out the candles on his 91st birthday in Johannesburg on July 18, 2009. (Debbie Yazbek / Nelson Mandela Foundation via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama visits Mandela at his home in Johannesburg on June 21, 2011, accompanied by her mother and daughters.They are pictured reading his newest book, titled "Nelson Mandela by himself." (Debby Yazbek / Nelson Mandela Foundation via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Mandela receives the African Nation Congress centenary torch from ANC chairwoman Baleka Mbete at his home in Qunu on May 30, 2012. The original torch was lit during the party's 100th birthday celebrations earlier in 2012, before a replica was presented to Mandela at his home. (Daily Dispatch / Gallo Images via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Schoolchildren read about Mandela's life at a school in his home village of Qunu ahead of the opening of a container library by the Bill Clinton foundation in celebration of Mandela day on July 17, 2012. (Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Nelson Mandela met with a group of American and South African students, aged from 11 to 19, at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg, South Africa, on June 2, 2009. (Media24 / Gallo Images / Getty Images file) Back to slideshow navigation
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Video: Mandela wished a happy 93rd birthday

Timeline: Life of Nelson Mandela

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