KWAZAKHELE – Unemployed South African labourer Xolisa Sacu has given up waiting for the housing, services and jobs that the African National Congress (ANC) has been promising his rubbish-strewn township since the end of apartheid 22 years ago.
Zakhele township is like many rundown areas of the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality where the ANC is at risk of losing a local election in August, almost unthinkable two decades ago when the area was at the heart of the anti-apartheid struggle.
Acknowledging the electoral significance of this coastal region in the Eastern Cape, President Jacob Zuma chose to launch the ANC’s manifesto in its biggest city, Port Elizabeth, on Saturday.
Less than half the expected 100,000 people turned out to hear Zuma’s promises of jobs and better public services for the poor, a sign that many South Africans are losing patience with a party that swept to power on a wave of optimism in 1994.
LISTEN: Why were there so few people at the ANC manifesto launch
“The things they promised haven’t happened,” father of four Sacu, 46, told Reuters in a narrow alleyway in Zakhele where hawkers sell everything from car exhaust pipes to mangoes from sparse street side stalls.”
Sacu, who was a youth member of the ANC during apartheid but does not intend to vote for them again says, “There is rubbish everywhere and there are no jobs for our children.”
In Nelson Mandela Bay, the ANC’s share of votes slipped from 70 percent in 2004 to just over 50 percent at local polls in 2014.
An Ipsos poll late last year suggested a very tight race this year, with the ANC winning only 43 percent of the vote against 42 percent for the combined opposition parties and 15 percent of undecided voters.
Losing power in Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, a stronghold of the ANC’s during the fight against apartheid and named after its liberation hero, would be a symbolic blow for Zuma and his party nationally.
“Port Elizabeth is becoming a highly contested area and the ANC is being met with greater deal of suspicion,” political analyst Ralph Mathekga said.
“You can’t keep on filling stadiums if there is a growing notion that you are not doing the right thing.”
Slow economic progress in the Eastern Cape, home to South Africa’s car manufacturing plants, has led to frequent, often violent protests over a lack of housing and employment.
The province is beset by housing shortages and crime and has the second highest unemployment rate in the country. Many South Africans blame corruption within the ANC.
“There’s no jobs in Port Elizabeth,” a local taxi driver, Keith Caesar, told Reuters.
“You even see how the ANC municipality wastes money. That’s why I’m not interested in voting anymore.”
The ANC has also been damaged by a series of scandals in recent months, most notably circling Zuma.
Zuma is facing calls to resign from within the ANC since a court in March found he breached the constitution by ignoring an order to repay some of the $16 million in state funds spent renovating his private home.
“The way money is being handled by the ANC, we don’t like it. We want change,” Sacu said.