Analysts say corruption and Zuma's dubious reputation will still put off voters, despite the promises made at the ANC's manifesto launch last week.
The ANC may have presented a fairly balanced list of election promises in its 2014 manifesto, but it has failed to rebuild its trust with voters, say analysts.
Corruption was the number one concern as far as trust went. The party included a section on tackling corruption in its manifesto and the January 8 statement launched in Nelspruit this past weekend. Included in the proposal was a central tender board tasked with checking pricing and adhering to procedures.
"Public servants and public representatives will be prohibited from doing business with the state," party president Jacob Zuma said in his speech at Mbombela Stadium.
The two measures go to the heart of public concerns with the ANC-led government.
But political analyst Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, said the proposal was not enough. "It's three paragraphs compared to masses and masses of stuff," he said.
According to Friedman, the party has sensed the disillusionment among the public but has made the mistake of making more promises instead of focusing on the broken trust between the party and voters. "What they seem to think the problem is, is that they haven't handed out enough goodies – minimum wage, wage differentials, public infrastructure," he said. "But none of those things is the problem. The problem is trust.
"You can promise whatever you like but if people don't trust you that doesn't solve the problem. What does is addressing the trust deficit."
A political analyst at Wits University, Susan Booysen, said the party seriously compromised itself by sticking with Zuma as the face of the party and the campaign.
"There was a small window when they could have made the change," she said, noting sources within the ANC pointing to research that showed the party would attain 55% with Zuma as its head and higher without him.
"They clearly chose to support him – the ones who protect Zuma are the ones who depend on him and his patronage. It would be expecting an improbable group of people to take steps to remove him."
The Mail & Guardian reported last week that the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) members are resigned to defending Zuma ahead of the elections. The party's top leadership is either firmly on their president's side or doing what it can to spin the contentious issues surrounding him, particularly Nkandla, to ensure the ANC gets voted in.
"Now, as we sit, we can't wish away that we had to build a security upgrade for the president and put up infrastructure and so on," said one NEC member.
He added that a revolt against Zuma over the matter from within the party is unlikely. "Zuma is the face of the party; he is the face of the campaign. You can't change that at this stage."
Booysen said this was one of the biggest problems in the ANC.
"People of ethics are prepared to bide their time and hope the wheel turns in their favour," she said. "This is probably the greatest affliction the ANC is suffering from: people are prepared to bide their time and hope the party will turn in not just their direction but in the right direction. But this is a huge roulette wheel they're playing with that does huge damage to the ANC in the long run."
'Sincerity and commitment'
Dr Somadoda Fikeni pointed out that the manifesto was a good document when compared to other parties but he agreed that credibility was an issue.
"Will people believe this time around the things that have been promised will be delivered or will it be a case of preparation for elections and swaying the mood of the people," he asked.
"People will be asking the level of sincerity and commitment and looking at the track record of implementation."
He added that corruption remained a key issue and people looked at anecdotal evidence – such as the party's long delayed action over former communication minister Dina Pule's misdeeds.
Looking at the proposal of a central tender board, Fikeni said the issue was whether the party could be believed.
He pointed out that the party's NEC made a similar promise in 2010, banning all municipal managers and directors from serving in any of the party's executive positions. The decision was outlined in accompanying legislation in the amendment of the 2000 Municipal Systems Act .
"But when political backlash or resistance from some quarters came, they quietly stopped talking about it," said Fikeni.
"They don't beat drums when they abandon positions. They sort of quietly didn't mention it again."