Poor South Africans angry over ANC 'rot'

Beneath the undying loyalty of poor blacks to the African National Congress, there is a growing resentment towards the movement that delivered South Africa from apartheid 18 years ago.

In the famous Soweto township, once home to anti-apartheid heroes Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, residents struggling against high unemployment, crime and pervasive corruption are not afraid to speak frankly about what they call the ANC's rot.

"The ANC is not a bad movement, it is the people who have brought the rot to the party," said Slavate Marema, who has never had a job since finishing school five years ago.

"Leaders don't seem to care much about us once they get our votes. All they seem to care about is enriching themselves and driving around in fancy cars, and telling us that government has no money," said the 22-year-old.

After decades of championing the fight against white-minority apartheid rule, the ANC led South Africa peacefully into a "rainbow nation" in 1994 and its leader Mandela was elected the country's first black president.

But the ruling ANC is now accused of abandoning its roots and core constituency.

"As far as I am concerned we have no government. They are serving themselves, busy lining their own pockets," said France Diholo, a retired factory worker.

"The rot that you see today, did not start with Zuma's, it has been creeping up slowly since Mandela days," he lamented.

Too often, Soweto residents complain, ANC membership has become synonymous with instant wealth and the beneficiaries of lucrative government contracts seem to be politically connected.

The ANC government has often come under fire for excessive spending on luxury hotel stays, and providing small armies of round-the-clock security to officials, while the most of the population battle unacceptably high crime rates.

"These days security seems to be reserved for high profile ANC politicians, who travel with groups of armed police in fast cars. When communities need them they are not available," fumed Tankiso Mmusi.

Although the ANC government has built 2.8 million homes since taking power, around 20 percent of South Africans still have no electricity and 10 percent no running water. Protests over service delivery are frequent.

Reports that the government spent $29-million of taxpayers' money upgrading Zuma's private home, complete with helipad, underground bunkers and a clinic, are jarring for many.

Despite being the largest economy on the continent and home to a burgeoning black middle class, South Africa remains one of the most unequal societies in the world.

The grievances are reaching a crescendo at a difficult time for the ANC, as it prepares for a leadership conference on Sunday, held every five years, which effectively kicks off the campaign for elections in 2014.

But like many people who felt angered by the ANC, Diholo said he will continue voting for the party, which still holds a commanding electoral majority.

At the 2009 elections the ANC won almost 66 percent of the 17-plus million votes cast.

The nearest rival, the Democratic Alliance, which is often seen as "too-white" by black voters, got just 17 percent of the vote.

The bigger risk for the ANC may be that voters stay away from the polls altogether.

But according to Andile Mngxitama, a firebrand columnist for The Sowetan newspaper, the "conditions for a revolution are rife in South Africa."

"The ANC has failed to transform the state into an instrument of the people," he wrote in a recent column.

"The question we need to ask is will the South African revolution be by the ballot or by insurrection, like the Arab Spring?"

That may be over-exuberant, but there is little doubt the ANC's revolutionary lustre has lost some of its shine.