How the ANC Lost Its Way

The legendary liberation movement celebrates its centenary, but the party of Mandela has done far too little for a still divided South Africa

  • Benedicte Kurzen for TIME

    The ANC was born in the church hall to the right. Now the party is spending millions to renovate its history.

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    Across the Tracks
    The short drive to Maphikela house crosses South Africa's divide. I start in leafy all-white suburbs, home to cafs, bookstores and the Hobbit Boutique Hotel, modeled on the fantasies of Bloemfontein's most famous son, J.R.R. Tolkien. Then I cross a railway track, and I'm in the township: no trees, full of potholes and all black. Where my tourist map indicates Maphikela House should be is instead an abandoned warehouse, the windows smashed, graffiti by its broken door announcing THUG MANSION.

    The local metropolitan authority says unemployment is 56%, and 59% of those with jobs earn $100 or less a month. Hanging out on a corner opposite Thug Mansion is Tumelo Lekhooe, 20, who was out of work for a year after school before finding a job as a street sweeper. "The ANC is full of corruption," he says. "There are no good roads here, no parks, good schools or jobs. The ANC use connections to win government tenders, then spend the money on themselves."

    Lekhooe is describing a phenomenon in postapartheid South Africa: the growth of the tenderpreneur. The term describes those who get rich from government contracts or from dispensing them for kickbacks. Tenderpreneurs have turned government into a business. The national Special Investigating Unit, which targets corruption, reckons that up to a quarter of annual state spending — $3.8 billion — is wasted through overpayment and graft. The Auditor General says a third of all government departments have awarded contracts to companies owned by officials or their families; in December it found that three-quarters of all tenders in one ANC-ruled province, the Eastern Cape, rewarded officials in this way. Those being investigated for suspected corruption include two ministers, the country's top policeman and the head of the ANC's Youth League, Julius Malema. (All deny the charges.)

    Tenderpreneurs are just one chapter in the saga of ANC scandals. There are the perks, like the $550 million the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) claims ministers and their wives have spent on themselves since 2009. There is the state security minister whose wife was convicted of running an international drug ring, and the local government minister who used public money to fly first class to Switzerland to visit his girlfriend, also in prison for narcotics. There is the previous police chief, jailed for 15 years for taking bribes from the mob. And there is a corrupt $4.8 billion European arms deal that has haunted the ANC leadership since it was agreed to in 1999.

    South African President Jacob Zuma declined to be interviewed for this article, but he can be candid about the ANC's poor record. "I have traveled to many parts of the country in recent months, monitoring the performance of government," he said at a business breakfast in Cape Town in November. "I come face to face with the triple scourge of poverty, inequality and unemployment." Zuma has taken action, however. He has sacked two ministers, suspended a raft of top officials, including the police chief, and set up an independent inquiry into the arms deal. He appropriated all the duties of a corrupt and inept ANC state government in Limpopo and dispatched his own officials to improve two more. He has already delivered one spectacular success to confound the skeptics: the 2010 soccer World Cup, the world's biggest sporting event, which went off with barely a hitch.

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