South Africa's hopes 20 years on

Apartheid has come and gone, but many still suffer from poverty and lack of services.


    Many South Africans say they are disillusioned to still be living in poverty with lack of basic services 20 years after the end of Apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela [EPA]

    When former president Nelson Mandela walked out of Victor Verster prison just outside Cape Town on February 11, 1990, South Africans who had endured years of oppression under Apartheid looked forward to living in a new multi-racial democracy.

    The policy of separate development that favoured the white minority over the poor black majority would be dismantled and the stage would be set for democratic elections.

    In 1994, Mandela won the elections and was sworn in as South Africa's first democratically elected president.

    "We understand it still that there is no easy road to freedom. We know it well that none of us acting alone can achieve success. We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world," Mandela said at his inauguration speech.

    "Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfil themselves. Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. Let freedom reign."

    Filled with hope

    Malusi and other South Africans were filled with hope when Mandela was released [EPA]

    Lindiwe Malusi was 16 years old when Mandela - a man she had only ever known from banned political posters - was released.

    Mandela had spent had spent more than 27 years in prison and was 71 years old when he was freed, but Malusi remembers that he walked with the posture of a world leader. It was then she filled with hope and dreamt of a better life for her family.

    "All I could think about was the wonderful life I was going to have, my own house and no longer live in a shack," she says.

    "I'd go to university and have a proper job – live a better life than the life my parents had. I wouldn't be a second class citizen anymore."

    The ruling party was singing the right tunes – equality and employment for all, an end to poverty and the opportunity for black South Africans to actively participate in the country's emerging economy.

    Twenty years later …

    Jacob Zuma is now the country's fourth president and an influential wealthy black middle class has emerged under the government's Black Empowerment Programme.

    But South Africa is only just recovering from its worst economic recession in 17 years during which one million people lost jobs – and the majority are still waiting for a share in South Africa's wealth.

    Sixteen years since the end of Apartheid many black South Africans live in impoverished squatter settlements without quality education, healthcare or access to running water and electricity. 

    Malusi is still staying in a squatter camp in Cape Town with no water and electricity; her children are not receiving the quality education she had hoped for. She is quite angry – and so are her neighbours.

    Her neighbour Pumzile Mlambo is 27 years old, a young mother and unemployed. She looks at the toilet recently put outside her house by her municipal workers. She shakes her head and sighs.

    "Would you use this toilet?" she asks. "It works but it's out in the open – no cover. I have no privacy. How is anyone expected to use this? It is so degrading. I think about how my parents grew up in this poverty, how I grew up here and how my children are growing up here. We will all probably be buried here."

    She is one of many South Africans who are disillusioned 20 years after Mandela's historic release.


    Protests against lack of services have erupted throughout South Africa [AFP]
    Some anti-apartheid activists share her frustration. Hilda Ndude participated in the rallies and protests for change, and called for Mandela's release in the 1980s.

    She says she was part of his welcoming committee and had had the privilege of walking behind Mandela when he left the prison 20 years ago.

    She says the hopes she used to have back in 1990 have turned to disillusion.

    Once a staunch member of Mandela's African National Congress (ANC), Ndude 'defected' to the new Congress of the People (COPE) – a splinter group of the ANC.

    She believes the ANC forgot what it meant to be a liberation party.

    "They got their support all those years ago from the people who believed the ANC would fight for the poor. Now, in the 15 years since South Africa has been free we were supposed to have seen the changes in the lives of the ordinary South Africans," she says.

    "We are not supposed to be still seeing the shacks in the numbers we see in South Africa and yet we are free – so that means for me that something has gone wrong."


    Poor black South Africans blame "incompetent corrupt" officials for the slow pace of deliverable services – which have become the norm in South Africa - in poor township communities. The growing frustration with the government often erupts into violent protests on the streets as demonstrators burn tyres and attack shops and property.

    The police retaliate by firing rubber bullets at the crowds. When these protests erupt, government officials despatch delegations to the area to assess the situation, listen to peoples' needs and promise to send help.

    The ANC says it is making progress and continuously ask South Africans to be patient. The government says it has built over three million free houses and increased access to water and electricity for the poor since 1994.

    But one in three South Africans continues to live in abject poverty. The poor complain they have been hearing the same promises since 1994 and they now want action. 
    They won their freedom from the shackles of Apartheid but they are still trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty.

    Mandela spoke of equality for all South Africans when he walked out of Victor Verster prison. But two decades later some here are still waiting for his words to come true.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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