Animal ritual sacrifice celebrates ANC centenary history

A bull bellowed in sacrifice Saturday as South Africa's ruling ANC paid tribute to its ancestors and founding leaders, who 100 years ago paved the way for Nelson Mandela's rainbow nation.

President Jacob Zuma led the slaughter of a black bull in a ceremony on the second day of the African National Congress centenary festivities to celebrate its rich anti-apartheid legacy now tarnished by scandals and challenges.

"Today our leaders, traditional leaders and traditional healers, had to perform certain rituals before we get into serious business of celebration," said Zuma after the sacrifice at the church site where the ANC was founded in 1912.

"In other words, to remember our ancestors, to remember our own gods in a traditional way."

Overlooked by giant portraits of former leaders such as Mandela, healers and cultural groups dressed in beads, porcupine head-dresses and animal skins sang, danced and prepared food as politics gave way to African drums and tradition.

Two goats and two chickens were slaughtered ahead of the bull, which was a gift from neighbouring Lesotho King Letsie III, in traditional rituals to communicate with the ancestors.

"Everything has been done. We have spoken to the ancestors," Zuma said before the sacrifice.

The three-day birthday bash of Africa's oldest liberation movement wraps up Sunday when Zuma will address a rally to outline the party's way forward, as he seeks to rein in feuding factions to secure another term at the helm of the ANC in party elections this year.

Mandela, who led the country's heady early days of all-race democracy, is notably absent, as his party faces growing frustration over graft smears and the failure to roll out better services to the 38% of the nation still living in poverty.

"We have not done everything that we should do for the people of South Africa, but our government is trying to do its best," said Andrew Mlangeni, 86, who was jailed alongside Mandela and has been an ANC member for 60 years.

"I'm very happy and proud that we have achieved what we fought for: freedom. People of South Africa today are free and this is what we had been struggling for."

Cultural song, dance and poetry readings were on the programme Saturday ahead of a gala dinner where Zuma will host heads of state and global anti-apartheid movements before lighting a flame at midnight to mark the anniversary.

The party was founded in Bloemfontein as the South African Native National Congress, and met crushing brutality from apartheid rulers who slapped it with a ban in 1960 and jailed its top leaders four years later.

Nearly 30 years on, the crumbling and isolated regime released icon Mandela to lead the country into its first all-race polls where the party has enjoyed huge wins ever since.

In doing so, it has avoided the pitfalls of fellow African liberation movements which once rallied with the party, such as President Robert

Mugabe's ZANU-PF in power in neighbouring Zimbabwe for 30 years.

But smears reach to the highest level with graft charges dropped against Zuma on the eve of his taking power in 2009, while abuse of taxpayers' money and reports of flashy lifestyles for the new elite make frequent headlines.

Economically, the party has drawn praise for steering Africa's biggest economy into safe waters, rolling out new electricity and water supplies, as well as houses, and inspiring a new black middle class.

But it has failed to direct the post-apartheid boom into the hands of the poor who bear the brunt of shoddy public hospitals and schools, a dangerously high joblessness rate of 25%, violent crime and life in grim shantytowns.