A GIANT AWAKENS - WAAIHOEK - THE BIRTHPLACE OF THE AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS


“Let us never be unmindful of the terrible past from which we come… not as a means to keep us shackled to the past in a negative manner, but rather as a joyous reminder of how far we have come and how much we have achieved.”     

(Nelson Mandela, 2004)

 

In 2014 Totem developed an exhibition for the Interpretation Centre at the Wesleyan Church Precinct in Waaihoek, Bloemfontein, where the African National Congress was founded in 1912.

The Wesleyan Church precinct in Waaihoek holds a particular place in our collective memory. As the site where the African National Congress (then known as the South African National Native Congress) was founded, it marks, in a very tangible way, the moment when black South Africans united to give a structure and a name to South Africa’s long and complex liberation struggle. It was the moment, as Pixley ka Isaka Seme put it, that the ‘giant awakened’.  

The exhibition in Waaihoek starts with a film that orientates visitors to the political and social issues affecting black people in South Africa just prior to the inaugural meeting of the South African Native National Congress. It will look at local, as well as the big historical events in South Africa, such as colonialism, the Difaqane, The Great Trek, The South African War, the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 and the impending Land Act of 1913.

The first section of the exhibition examines the rationale for the formation of the SANNC, the factors that led to the 1912 congress at Waaihoek and the social and political context in which resistance to white domination was gaining momentum. This is followed by a focus on the January 8, 1912 congress at Waaihoek where the South African National Native Congress was established, and on the key visionaries who made it happen: Pixley ka Seme, Sol Plaatje, Thomas Mapikela, Richard Msimang and others.

From there visitors follow some key events in South African history that illustrate how the ANC as an organisation matured and constantly renewed itself through internal democratic processes and considered responses to external events and apartheid legislation. On the long journey from Waaihoek 1912 to Mangaung 2012, the ANC provided a vehicle for mass mobilisation and a forum for robust discussion. It consolidated the hopes of millions of South Africans and kept alive the promise of a better future.

The exhibition also acknowledges the Free State’s role in the national liberation struggle. It focuses on key events that happened in the Free State, such as the 1913 Women’s March, but also on the participation of Free State organisations and individuals in national events such as the Defiance Campaign and the 1956 Women’s March.

The exhibition ends with the ANC ‘s centenary celebrations and the 2012 ANC Conference at Mangaung. Unlike the founding conference, which got scant mention in the newspapers of the time, the 53rd conference was extensively anticipated, reported and analysed, on television and in the print media and via social media. But, most importantly, the ANC was in power – the ruling party in a free and democratic South Africa.  

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