As ANC votes, South African poor feel party has passed them by

Fri Dec 14, 2012 8:26am EST
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By Jon Herskovitz

BOTSHABELO, South Africa (Reuters) - 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, unlovable 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.   Continued...

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma gestures as he addresses an African National Congress (ANC) policy meeting in Midrand, north of Johannesburg, June 29, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko