Beneath a blazing sun in Mamelodi, a township near Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, Insurance Mabunda says he has finally given up on the ruling African National Congress.
The last straw was the corruption scandals that have discredited the party and its leadership, he says. Mr Mabunda was among the many erstwhile ANC supporters who voted for opposition parties for the first time at last month’s municipal election, handing the ANC its biggest ever electoral setback and delivering a stinging rebuke to President Jacob Zuma.
“The ANC is corrupt. From the president on top, we’re tired of them,” Mr Mabunda says.
Chastened party leaders responded to the electoral drubbing by saying they would take “bold actions to address the weaknesses”. But the depth of turmoil within the former liberation movement that led Mr Mabunda and many others to turn away from ANC has dramatically exploded back into public view.
Instead of soul-searching over the losses, the results have exposed long-running fractures in the ANC as a full-blown war within the government has erupted into the open. Many perceive it to be a battle between those seeking to use state resources for patronage and those seeking to crack down on graft.
The power struggle has pitted the Treasury against powerful state entities, such as Eskom, the utility, while Pravin Gordhan, the finance minister, has become embroiled in a controversial police investigation into an alleged “rogue unit” of the tax authority.
Many analysts believe the pressure on Mr Gordhan, who is respected at home and abroad, and the Treasury is timed to allow Mr Zuma to replace the finance minister with a more pliant candidate — echoing his firing of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister last December. That decision set off one of the worst economic crises of the democratic era.
The Treasury has since publicly accused Eskom, the biggest buyer of South African coal, of hindering an investigation into a supply contract with Tegeta Exploration and Resources, a company controlled by the Gupta family. The Guptas are close to Mr Zuma and have been accused of using their influence to secure favourable deals and attempt to influence state appointments, allegations they have denied.
Eskom hit back, saying the Treasury’s requests were “unreasonable”.
There are few signs that the power struggles will abate. Instead, they threaten to heap more damage on a stagnating economy as Africa’s most industrialised nation is blighted by rampant unemployment, poverty and yawning inequalities.
It also means the ANC risks enduring a similar humiliation at the ballot box in 2019 general elections.
“We fail our own. We steal from the poor. All these things we do with absolute impunity,” said Sipho Pityana, an ANC veteran, in a recent attack on Mr Zuma and the state of the ANC. “The next battle cannot be led by a leader that has humiliated our organisation and undermined everything that we represent.”
Mamelodi was an area where ANC support was deemed to be impregnable, but now it highlights how the anger is playing out among voters.
Five years ago, 77 per cent of the township’s voters cast their ballots for the ANC. But at last month’s poll, the party’s support collapsed to 48 per cent, while the opposition Democratic Alliance — for years maligned by critics as a “white party” — surged from 8 per cent to 29 per cent.
The Economic Freedom Fighters, a radical breakaway of the ANC that was contesting its first local election, polled 20 per cent.
Nationally, the ANC’s share of the vote hit 54 per cent, plummeting below 60 per cent for the first time since it took power in the 1994 elections that ended white minority rule, with some 3m traditional party voters either not turning out or switching their support.
It lost control of Pretoria, Johannesburg, the economic hub, and Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, a traditional ANC heartland, for the first time.
In townships — historically the ANC’s strongholds in urban areas — residents complain of the poor delivery of services, such as water and sewage, and broken ANC promises.
In Mamelodi, many government-built social houses, intended for poor families living in shacks, are roofless; others are no more than cement foundations. Frustrated locals blame contractor graft, allegedly abetted by councillors, for the unfinished buildings, while adding that people pay bribes to jump housing queues, illustrating how corruption is affecting everyday lives.
Mr Mabunda’s neighbour has waited 22 years — the same amount of time the ANC has governed — for a house and voted for the Democratic Alliance for the first time last month.
“We have given them [the ANC] enough time,” say an elderly women in the township.
In nearby Hammanskraal, Dorah Mashbule says she does not have a problem with the ANC as a party, but rather “its leaders and its councillors”.
“The biggest problem is jobs, as those who don’t have jobs become criminals,” she says. “But they don’t do anything about it.”