The party is finding that the Eastern Cape does not intend to let bygones be bygones.
Jacksonville, situated deep in Port Elizabeth's "northern areas" – is too small even to register on the map. Residents registering for municipal services use the nearby township of Bethelsdorp as a proxy address.
And yet, on March 15, the parched, hilly township of Jacksonville – much of it an assortment of uneven RDP houses – placed itself on the map when reports of President Jacob Zuma's booing during a visit to the township made national headlines.
Although the ANC was quick to defend its president, calling the people booing a "handful of noisy residents" who were "drunk", anger in Jacksonville is neither misplaced nor imagined. More than 1 000 RDP houses, some of them about 15 years old, have been undergoing "rectification", which residents say has compounded their problems instead of fixing them.
Barely a week since Zuma's photo opportunity at her house, Crystal de Mar still can't understand why she has been left out of the rectification process, along with 16 others. A letter from Stemele Bosch, the manager of the project, says that her house falls under category "0" – meaning it doesn't qualify for the corrective renovations and yet her neighbours' houses had also been extended either for comfort or business.
"They won't fix my roof," she says, pointing at the heavy, damp chipboard squares that make up the ceiling of the extended portion of the house. "I told Zuma that I did what I could [to extend my house] and now I'm being penalised for it. We can never find the councillor, we are always running after him."
No beef with DA
Jacksonville falls under a Democratic Alliance-run ward but De Mar feels the need to clarify that she has no beef with the DA, "just the councillor". She says when the president visited her house, he "just listened", making "no promises, no calls and no follow-ups".
For De Mar and her neighbours, the prospect of voting ANC is as remote as the planet Pluto. They see the rectification process as emblematic of the ruling party's failures to provide dignified housing through parts of the province.
In 2009, the provincial department of housing admitted in a statement that "the quality of the houses built in the province began to collapse" following the introduction of "the people's housing project, which envisaged contractors training housing owners to build their own homes".
This programme, the housing department said on its website, was mismanaged by contractors – who did not train people. This year half a billion rand has been set aside for the rectification of more than 5 000 homes in the province. It is to fix the mess first admitted to five years ago.
The terms "corruption" and "maladministration" roll so often off tongues in the Eastern Cape that they would seem hackneyed and devoid of meaning if they weren't so apparent.
That the words punctuate the sentences of politicians eager to prove their parties' inroads into traditional ANC strongholds such as Buffalo City (where the ANC scored a significant 68% of the vote in 2009's national elections) is to be expected.
In a telephone interview last week, the DA's Bobby Stevenson told the Mail & Guardian that "just yesterday and today there were stories [in the local press] about how R22-million was spent out of the infrastructure budget [from the Eastern Cape Development Corporation] for the Nelson Mandela memorial and R777 000 was spent on takeaways.
"You can't spend infrastructure grant money on food. Of that money R5-million was spent on T-shirts and it is meant to be used to upgrade hospitals and schools."
The corporation's chief executive, Sitembele Mase, has been suspended following the revelation.
The ruling party can illafford negative publicity related to Mandela's death, particularly as it is also using his passing in December as an opportunity to canvass the legacy vote. Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni says, ultimately, the scandal might not hurt the ANC's chances at the polls as it was not a province-wide scandal. "It simply exposed some of the leaders' tendencies, which are at variants with what Mandela stood for," he said. Fikeni added that the ANC's list conferences had been relatively strife-free, suggesting that it was possible to regain lost ground.
Reports of the ANC's shaky provincial support are largely based on the party's erratic election performance in 2009.
In the local government elections in 2011 Nelson Mandela Bay the ANC took just 34 wards to the DA's 26.
In a municipal by-election early this year in Buffalo City's Ward 3 the DA not only retained the ward, but also increased its margin from 53% in 2011 to 82.6%. The ANC declined from 38% to 17.7%.
On the party's provincial website, DA provincial leader Athol Trollip said: "The R9-million taxi scandal may have played a role in that." This refers to the fees charged by businessperson Mzwandile Sokwali to the Buffalo City Metro to transport mourners from East London to a memorial service held at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
In 2009 although the ANC received 68.8% of the Eastern Cape vote, the figure represented a drop of some 10% when compared with 2004. In 2009, new entrant Congress of the People (Cope) received almost 14% of the provincial vote, usurping the DA as the official opposition in the province.
With Cope having endured prolonged factionalism that split the party into Mbazima Shilowa and Terror Lekota camps, it seems unlikely the party will maintain its strong position. In late February, Shilowa announced that his supporters, which represent a disputed figure of 800 branches, would support the UDM in the upcoming elections. Cope, now definitively led by Lekota, unveiled a new provincial premier candidate in the form of Bishop Lievie Sharpley, an affable man in a toupee who speaks fluent isiXhosa.
On the door-to-door trail in Motherwell, north of Port Elizabeth, last weekend, Sharpley showcased his multilingual skills by telling a woman cradling a baby that the ANC's "good story to tell" slogan could be directly translated to "we are peddling in fairy tales".
Port St Johns
Six hours away Port St Johns' town hall looks straight out of the1950s – the only ventilation is an ancient fan that packed up during ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe's speech last Sunday. The party pamphlets came in handy as makeshift fans for the 300 people to stave off the oppressive, humid heat.
Mantashe tried his best with the ANC's "good story to tell". It was a vague "score card" about the numbers of children at university, ARV access and the need to tame the Wild Coast. A young man named Siviwe Ngcingwana told Mantashe that, in the days of the Transkei homeland, "local people owned local businesses but now not even one is owned by locals".
Outside, the facts don't back up the "good story": sewage runs through the centre of this tourist town and, as the residents explain, water and sanitation services are run from the OR Tambo municipal seat of Mthatha.
As one resident put it: "Mthatha doesn't care if Port St Johns doesn't have water or a honeysucker [sewage removal truck]."
Poverty favours opportunists
The Eastern Cape is a politically fragmented province.
"In politics, everyone with an idea to form a breakaway party makes the call in the Eastern Cape," political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said. "This is because it is a highly politicised and conscientised province, but there are also deep levels of poverty, which sets the stage for anyone to launch a political party in the province.
"Do not confuse fragmentation and the proliferation of political parties with the ANC losing ground."
Fikeni said poverty may be the root cause of the persistent municipal woes. "Many of these are small municipalities with a small revenue base in a climate of poverty. So people see it as a source of income. Politics then becomes the only way of social mobility, through the controlling of tenders and so on."