Fifteen years on, South Africans demand real emancipation (Feature)

Qunu (South Africa), April 18 (Inditop) Through the cracked window of his mud hut Malibongwe Ntshakaza can just about see the roof of Nelson Mandela’s retirement villa 100 metres away – but he’s never seen South Africa’s most famous son in the flesh. In fact, the father of four has only ever seen Mandela on TV.

Ntshakaza says this is because he has spent most of the past 14 years since the end of apartheid on the road, looking for a job.

Ntshakaza, 49, returned to Qunu, a sprawling rural town of around 70,000 inhabitants and Mandela’s childhood home, after Mandela became president in South Africa’s first free elections, in 1994.

Like thousands of other migrant workers, he’d just been laid off from his job as a gold miner, as companies seized on the end of sanctions to mechanise and slash jobs.

Ever since, he has tried but failed to cobble enough money together from plastering jobs to feed his wife and children.

The two youngest, who are still at school, are staying with relatives across the field, while the two eldest, who have left school and are also unemployed, are staying elsewhere.

“I feel very bad,” he says, standing in a room he calls the dining room, which is bare except for a low rusting table.

“I would like my children to remember me as a good father but because I don’t have a job I can’t give to them.”

Fifteen years into democracy, the oppressive grip of unemployment and poverty has soured the taste of freedom for millions of blacks.

In Eastern Cape province, that disappointment is all the more acute given that the struggle for that freedom was led by a local man.

“This place should at least have been better because we have an icon like Mandela (living here), but nothing has changed,” Ntshakaza says dolefully.

He has pre-paid electricity in his home but his income of around 600 rand ($66) plus 220 rand ($24) in child support cannot stretch to more units when his few free units run out.

Ntshakaza is one of nearly half of all South Africans (46 percent) who believe life is the same or worse since the end of apartheid, according to the respected Afrobarometer survey that was carried out in South Africa in late 2008.

More worrying still, a majority (54 percent) of South Africans believe the country is headed in the “wrong direction”.

Unemployment, officially put at 21 percent but estimated by unions at closer to 40 percent, with the fallout of the global slowdown yet to really hit, is the most critical election issue, polls say.

The high number of jobless, which a decade of strong growth has failed to shrink, has been linked to the country’s high crime levels. Over 50 people are murdered every day nationwide, many of them during violent robberies.

If, as polls suggest, the African National Congress is reelected, it will also have to deal with mounting frustration, frequently erupting into riots, over the slow pace of delivery of housing, clean water and other services. The ANC says it has built over 3 million free or low cost houses since 1994, but millions still live in tin shacks.

Corruption at all levels of government is seen as the key impediment to service delivery. ANC leader Jacob Zuma faced a trial for alleged corruption in an arms deal, before the charges were abruptly dropped this month.

“Since ’94, they’ve been promising and promising but we’ve seen nothing,” Sipho Ndaba, an insurance salesman in KwaZulu-Natal says, standing in an unpaved road outside a church that regularly floods during the rainy season.

“Those days (during apartheid) we didn’t see such corruption,” he says, before considering: “Maybe they (the apartheid regime) just hid it better!”