Entshingeni - First graders huddle to do sums on scraps of
paper pressed against a cracked mud wall at Mwezeni Primary School in the
destitute Eastern Cape province.
The school may be located in Africa's wealthiest nation, but
there are no chairs, no desks and no work books.
The Eastern Cape, home to giants of the African National
Congress like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu who helped end apartheid and
Thabo Mbeki, the nation's second democratically elected president, is a glaring
example of the ruling party's failure to deliver its promise of a "better
life for all".
In Entshingeni village, not far away from where Mandela was
raised, a mud hut with a dirt floor serves as a classroom to 79 first and
second graders who sit on planks across rickety bench frames in front of a
"We are proud of Mr Mandela and Mr Mbeki. They came
from this land and went all over the world.
"What will presidents overseas say if they see how we
live?" said David Skwele from Mkanzini village, dressed in a tattered red
The ANC, in power now for 18 years, will hold a major policy
conference from Tuesday acknowledging that "public services are uneven and
often of poor quality; corruption is widespread; and South Africa remains a
While thousands of schools wait each year for textbooks and
many Eastern Cape children are forced to write on loose sheets, the ANC has
produced copious reams of policy papers to be studied by about 3 000 delegates
at next week's meeting.
The conference is expected to lead to another blizzard of
strategy documents on what the ANC calls a "second transition".
This aims to tackle what the party acknowledges as its
greatest unfinished business: spreading wealth more widely and equitably in a
nation whose levels of economic inequality are still among the highest in the
world, a legacy of the political compromises needed to dismantle apartheid,
which ended in 1994.
"Continuing with the status quo could lead South Africa
into an irreversible downward spiral... Our political transition was never only
about freedom from political bondage," an ANC discussion document prepared
for the policy conference says.
It refers to "old fissures of race, gender, class and
"Get rid of the rot"
The week-long policy meeting is being held amid signs of
acrimonious infighting among senior party figures ahead of another more
critical conference at the end of the year which will elect the leadership and
adopt strategies. President Jacob Zuma is widely expected to retain the party's
The ANC proposes government taking greater control of the
economy, a massive infrastructure programme to create jobs and taxing mining
firms more to help finance it all.
But a jaded public expect few effective measures from the
conference to tackle corruption, mismanagement and cronyism that analysts see
corroding governance and competitiveness in Africa's largest economy.
Party insiders insist that the ANC is aware it needs to get
its house in order. This means balancing pressure from an increasingly
demanding but still marginalised majority against the political clout wielded
by a post-apartheid economic elite whose interests are intertwined with the ANC
"At 100 years, now is as good a time as any to get rid
of the rot festering in the party," said one party official, who asked not
to be identified while discussing internal criticism the party tries to keep
behind closed doors.
A new book on South Africa by journalists Martin Plaut and
Paul Holden, titled Who rules South Africa? Pulling the strings in the battle
for power, describes the country's political, economic and social state as
"schizophrenic and disjointed".
"A wealthy now largely multiracial middle and upper
class exists in a first world bubble that is miles away from the penury from a
bottom half that has seen few gains from the post apartheid period," they
"Mouse in a cheese factory"
Education has always been a priority for the ANC and the
government spends nearly $1 400 a year on each student. But at hundreds of
Eastern Cape schools, it is difficult to see where any of the money has gone.
The classroom shack of the Mkanzini Junior School is so
rickety teachers fear that if they tack up charts on the rusted walls, the
structure will collapse.
"On sunny days we boil in here. Look at the big holes,
on rainy days we are soaked and on windy days, I am afraid the shack will fall
on the kids," said teacher Zoleka Nofonda, 40, who has two grades crammed
in the room.
"They come because of the free meal we give them.
Sometimes its the only thing they eat all day."
The ANC, still revered for its role in bringing down
apartheid, enjoys virtual one-party rule in South Africa.
In recent elections it has beaten the main opposition
Democratic Alliance, largely seen as a party of white privilege in a nation
that is 80% black, by more than 40 percentage points, although the opposition
has made some gains.
Without fear of losing power, the ANC has deployed thousands
of party cadres to run villages, towns and cities. But many of the movement's
loyalists have proved themselves more skilled at lining their pockets with
state funds than at doing their jobs.
"It is like taking a mouse from the bush and making it
run a cheese factory," ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe told Reuters.
He said the party was trying to rectify this.
The delivery deficit is most acute in the Eastern Cape which
receives the most funds of any province for welfare spending.
Spending here is pushed higher because the ANC government
inherited sprawling "homelands", which were set up by the apartheid
regime to concentrate the black majority with almost no infrastructure in
designated separate areas of the country.
With poverty so deep in Eastern Cape and a local electorate
closely tied to the ANC, few have sought change through the ballot box so far.
But other parts of the country saw 372 protests against poor public services
between January and May.
"There is very little sophistication from civil society
and the electorate to hold leaders accountable," said Derek Luyt from an
Eastern Cape think tank, the Public Service and Accountability Monitor.
The central government more than a year ago declared the
province's education system an abject failure, and said it would intervene. But
entrenched interests in the provincial ANC defied the mother body and kept
control of education purse strings.
This meant little improvement for Mwezeni Primary, one of
400 schools made of mud and sticks. More than 2 300 schools in the Eastern Cape
have six teachers or less.
But according to government statistics, the Eastern Cape
overspends on teachers by up to $120m a year, and civil society activists
suspect the money is going to corrupt officials instead of personnel in
"Eastern Cape has a long history of inequality and poor
bureaucracy inherited from the former homelands. It's a province using old
systems, where corruption and mismanagement thrives," said Yoliswa Dwane
from the Equal Education advocacy group.
Nearly half of South Africa's 18- to 24-year-olds - the
first generation educated after apartheid - are not in the education system and
have no jobs, according to government
This "lost" generation is seen as a weakness in
Africa's largest economy which is trying to grow its tax base as it funds
increased social spending.
'Ghost' workers, real shortages
As in education, corruption is also seen eating away at
resources needed to boost the health sector. Horror stories of the Eastern
Cape's health woes have become a staple of media.
In May, an elite body set up to investigate corruption in
the provincial government uncovered suspected graft amounting to $24m.
In 2011, the provincial health department said nearly $100m
had "vanished" from January 2009 to June 2010 with about $54m going
to so-called ghost staff who drew salaries and did no work, the regional Daily
Heading towards the sea on a rugged track lies Madwaleni
Hospital, built by missionaries in the 1960s and staffed by foreigners because
even lucrative stipends offered by the government have not proved enough to
attract South African doctors.
"We are always experiencing a shortage of something.
Sometimes it is medicine, sometimes it is gloves but our worst is a shortage of
doctors and nurses," said a foreign doctor who did not want to be
identified while discussing the hospital's shortcomings.
Human Rights Watch said in a 2011 survey that Eastern Cape
had some of the worst health indicators in South Africa, including high infant,
child, and maternal mortality rates.
Nofinish Nqata, 63, lives in a traditional white-washed
Xhosa hut in Ngqamakhwe village in Butterworth, on land allocated to her by the
The village has no electricity or telephones. Families use
pit latrines and walk long distances to collect water.
"The water we drink we share with pigs, cows and donkeys.
Some people use the river banks as their toilets and when it rains it washes
into the water supply."
Once a die-hard ANC loyalist, Nqata has taken the bold step
of joining the Democratic Alliance.
"It hurts so much because the old men Sisulu and (former
ANC president Oliver) Tambo are no longer alive and the ones who took over the
baton don't share the vision the stalwarts who fought for democracy had. They
care about themselves and their pockets, not us."