* Worries of entrenched poverty if ANC stays its course
* ANC policies seen as eroding competitiveness
* ANC failings reflected in cities such as Botshabelo
By Jon Herskovitz
BOTSHABELO, South Africa, Dec 14 A billboard of
a smiling President Jacob Zuma reminds Botshabelo residents his
ruling ANC will hold an important meeting down the road next
week to shape the future of South Africa.
But behind the giant poster, people see little to smile
about: sprawling shanties, dirt roads and rampant unemployment
in the town of 200,000 speak volumes about the party's failings
since it took over with the end of apartheid in 1994.
Zuma is poised to win a fresh term as leader of the African
National Congress (ANC) at its electoral meeting that runs from
Sunday to Thursday in the nearby city of Bloemfontein, putting
him on a path to serve as the country's president through 2019.
That is a prospect that worries everybody from ratings
agencies to Botshabelo residents, who say Zuma's government has
not done enough to fix corruption, a broken education system and
the unemployment that is dragging down Africa's biggest economy.
"We are sitting on a time bomb. ANC policies have taken us
to the brink of disaster," said Khokhoma Motsi, 52, who heads
the Botshabelo Unemployed Movement, which tries to find work for
thousands of people in the city.
Botshabelo, which means "Place of Refuge", was set up as a
dumping ground for displaced blacks by the apartheid government
and remains a soul-less, unloveable place.
In some ways, the ANC has made great strides, connecting
most residents in places like Botshabelo to the electric grid,
providing running water and building hundreds of thousands of
homes, the newest with toilets and solar panels.
"Our projects, our plans are geared towards creating an
environment that enables the district to flourish," said Qondile
Khedama, ANC spokesman for the Mangaung district where
Botshabelo is located.
However, the city's official unemployment rate is 56
percent, more than double the national rate.
Its overcrowded schools struggle to find qualified teachers
and textbooks while most of its residents appear destined for
permanent underclass status with no chance to escape poverty.
"These ANC conferences have come and gone, putting people
into positions for their own sake, not for the sake of the poor
the ANC has pledged to help," Motsi said in the one room plywood
hut used by the group.
CORRUGATED TIN KIOSKS
Nelson Mandela's former liberation movement, which turned
100 this year, has helped many blacks shut out of the economy
during apartheid move into the middle class.
Between 2001 and 2011, average household income has more
than doubled, well outpacing inflation, while doors once closed
to the black majority have been forced open through affirmative
But a large section of the 52 million population has been
left out, with official data showing nearly 40 percent of South
Africans live on less than $3 a day.
Income disparity, ranked as among the highest in the world,
has only grown bigger under Zuma, 70, a Zulu traditionalist with
little formal education.
The future also looks bleak for the first generation to go
through the post-apartheid education system, ranked as among the
worst of 144 countries surveyed in the World Economic Forum's
Global Competitiveness Report - well over 100 places behind
About half of this generation is destined for a lifetime
without formal employment, according to a study by the South
African Institute of Race Relations.
Yet the ANC is poised to stay in power for years to come
because of its role in bringing down apartheid, which helps
assure it overwhelming support among the black majority.
Most disgruntled black voters choose not to vote rather than
cast ballots for the main opposition Democratic Alliance, seen
as the party of white privilege. Past attempts by disaffected
ANC politicians to set up credible rivals have flopped.
Botshabelo resident Sabelo Baza, 25, has lived most of his
life under ANC rule. He carved a niche in the informal economy
by buying vegetables and fruit at a supermarket and selling them
at a makeshift kiosk of cardboard and corrugated tin to those
too poor to make the trip themselves.
"I was an ANC supporter but I have given up on them. They
are making themselves rich but we have no jobs and no money."
None of the residents that Reuters spoke to said they
supported the ANC, although many credited the ruling party with
some positive influence in areas such as housing.
LOSING PACE, LOSING JOBS
The bulk of the jobs in Botshabelo are in an industrial area
set up under apartheid that is now home to textile and
Even though the industrial park has about 90 percent
occupancy, according to the Free State Province, working hours
and positions are being cut. Companies complain that ANC
policies have driven up the cost of unskilled labour.
The ANC, in a governing alliance with labour federation
COSATU, has backed union-friendly laws that have made the labour
market among the most restrictive in the world, with one of the
worst rates for overpaying unproductive workers, according to
the Global Competitiveness Report.
As a result, South Africa has priced itself out of many
industries where it was once competitive.
Zuma's government has proposed a raft of reforms to tighten
the labour market further to appease its labour allies, even
though a report commissioned by the presidency said the changes
would lead to massive job losses.
COSATU's 2 million members have been a powerful
vote-gathering machine for the ANC but the alliance has also
started to grate on many union members, who feel labour bosses
are more interested in politics than workers on the shop floor.
This anger led to the most damaging strikes since the end of
apartheid earlier this year when more than 75,000 workers in the
crucial mining sector launched a wave of wildcat strikes that
paralysed platinum and gold production.
Analysts expect the turmoil to flare again.
"Policy makers are not listening and even if they were
listening, they would take the wrong actions and diagnose the
problem incorrectly," said Loane Sharp, a labour economist at
employment agency Adcorp.
Botshabelo, like many impoverished parts of South Africa,
has been rocked by "service delivery protests", in which
residents typically blockade streets and square off with the
police to complain about the way the ANC is running their town.
The number of such protests averaged 21 annually in the five
years before Zuma took office in 2009 but that has jumped to
more than 110 since then, according to monitoring group
South Africa devotes billions of dollars a year to
eradicating poverty through better schools and job training but
large sums never make their way to their intended targets
because they get siphoned off by corrupt officials.
There is little accountability on the ground. The Auditor
General found that all the municipalities in the Free State
Province, which is home to Botshabelo, were unable to keep track
of money going in and out.
The state auditor said more than 90 percent of
municipalities nationwide were unable to keep their books in
For some, like Botshabelo activist R.J. Sethibe, the rot is
so severe they have been forced to do the unthinkable - abandon
the ANC and join the opposition DA.
"I grew tired of the ANC only delivering empty promises to
the people. Corruption is too high and accountability too low,"
he said. "Things will only become worse if Zuma stays in