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

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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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Zuma also has a vision of how to mend the government. In November he published a 19-year national plan that identified the nation's priorities as "corruption, divided communities, too few jobs, crumbling infrastructure, resource intensive economy, exclusive planning, poor education, high disease burden, public service [that is] uneven." By 2030, it pledges to have created 11 million jobs, built two more universities and several railway lines, privatized power, made private business illegal for bureaucrats, deployed up to 1.3 million community health workers and facilitated the installation of 5 million solar heaters. The plan is meant to inspire a party made complacent by a consistent two-thirds electoral majority. "We are too strong," Zuma told TIME in 2009, soon after becoming President. "You take things for granted."

It sounds impressive. Worryingly, that may be precisely the idea. "Eleven million jobs by 2030?" asks a Western diplomat in Pretoria. "Great. Excellent. From where?" After all, Zuma has made similar commitments before. In June 2009 he promised 4 million jobs by 2014 — ambitious then, unreachable now. He also pledged 80% coverage of antiretroviral treatment by 2011 (unlikely, given UNAIDS's figure of 25% for 2010) and an annual 7% to 10% annual cut in serious crime (against an actual 2011 — 12 fall of 5.75%). Critics say his purges of officials are less about corruption or ineptness than political vendettas.

Zuma himself is tainted by charges of corruption. He was linked to the arms deal through one of his financial advisers, who was jailed in 2005 for trying to solicit bribes on his behalf. Since Zuma was elected, the DA says the state has spent $50 million on refurbishing his homes. Tellingly, Zuma goes after those who would check his behavior. In November the ANC-led Parliament passed a law known as the "secrecy bill," which penalizes whistle-blowers or journalists in possession of secret documents and allows no public-interest defense. He has installed unqualified allies in top positions across the justice system. Meanwhile, internal party politicking, particularly Zuma's rivalry with Malema, has overshadowed government, something that will only increase in the run-up to a party conference in Bloemfontein in December at which Zuma is running for re-election as ANC President. "For the next 12 months, nobody will be running the country," says Fiona Forde, author of An Inconvenient Youth, about Malema.

With such an underwhelming record in office, how does the ANC win elections? By invoking its legend. The centenary celebrations, like so many other ANC events, hammer home how much black South Africans owe the party. Using such a "powerful legacy" only makes electoral sense, concedes DA leader Helen Zille. "When you've fought a liberation struggle and suffered so much and a party is perceived to have given you back your dignity, that party becomes who you are. How are you going to turn your back on that?" On his street corner, Lekhooe says, "I don't know why we still vote for them," then corrects himself. "It's our grandparents. They say we are here only because of the ANC."

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