Category Archives: Jonathan Clayton

Stench of shanties puts ANC on wrong side of new divide

THE stench of human waste hits like a punch in the stomach. Rotting rubbish divides rows of flimsy shacks. Half naked children play alongside pools of stagnant green filth. A heavy chain and padlock blocks entry to a long-drop toilet, one of seven in the rat infested Duncan Road shanty town, which is home to about 7,000 people.

“They filled up long ago and the council has not bothered to empty them. People now go to the bushes. There is no human dignity here,” said S’bu Zikode, 31, a petrol pump attendant who lives with his four children in a leaking hillside shack overlooking one of Durban’s main highways.

Mr Zikode shot to prominence late last year as a co-founder of the Shack Dwellers’ Association, a movement that has shaken the political landscape of South Africa.

The organisation quickly drew support from more than a dozen other shantytowns. Angry demonstrations over the lack of basic services from the local municipality, run by the African National Congress (ANC), triggered copycat demonstrations across the country.

Twelve years after the end of apartheid, many of South Africa’s sprawling townships and “informal settlements” are again in turmoil. In scenes reminiscent of the protests against white minority rule, effigies of mayors have been burnt. ANC officials have been shouted down and chased from rallies. Residents have blocked roads with burning tyres and overturned vehicles. Riot police have fired teargas.

The issue has dominated the national campaign for next Wednesday’s municipal elections, and, for the first time, the ANC can no longer depend on the support of those it professes to champion. Indeed, for all the ANC’s promises, the poorest South Africans are no better off than they were in the apartheid era. In many poor areas, three quarters of residents have no refuse collection, more than half no toilets and one in three no running water. In Duncan Road, 400 people share each standpipe.

“The ANC claims to be working for the poor, but they’re not. They’re working for themselves,” Mr Zikode said. His anger has increased as he has filled the Mercedes and BMWs of “black fat cats” who have profited from South Africa’s booming economy. The ANC has lost interest in the “poorest of the poor”, he says.

“The ANC today is someone in an office in a nice suit and tie. If you’re not a friend of someone high up they tell you to go away. We all voted for the ANC, but the ANC is no longer for the poor people,” he says. “Now they are worried because we are saying: ‘No land, No house, No vote’.”

Since 1994 the Government has built 1.8 million homes and increased access to water and electricity by about 70 per cent. But the problem is the growing divide between the “haves” and “have nots” in a market-driven economy. In some areas, unemployment has reached 48 per cent.

“The poorest of the poor are perhaps not worse off than before, but they can see how much better life is for others. It is a question of comparison. Racial differences are being replaced by class differences,” Kirwin Lebone, of South Africa’s Institute for Race Relations, said. As the new black middle class prospers, the bottom 30 per cent, mostly uneducated blacks, live on less than £10 a month in conditions of extreme poverty. The ANC has taken the criticism to heart. In some places, more than 80 per cent of its candidates have been changed.

Its support may weaken in the main urban centres, but it is still expected to win most of the 8,000 local government seats.

Freed of the restrictive apartheid era laws, thousands of poor blacks have drifted from the countryside to urban areas to look for work. Others have built shacks near where they work to avoid what used to be a long, expensive and sometimes dangerous journey home each night.

Consequently, about a quarter of South Africa’s population — about 12 million people — now live in shacks, a 50 per cent increase from a decade ago. In Durban, the shanty population has rocketed from about 50,000 to 750,000 and is growing at an annual rate of 10 per cent.

“Under apartheid they would have just knocked them down and moved them on,” said David Hemson, of the Human Sciences Research Council, a think-tank in Pretoria.

“Some of this is a by-product of democracy and freedom. Ordinary people also now feel they can get ahead by coming out on the streets and mobilising.”

POST-APARTHEID

# Between 1996 and 2003 687,894 new shacks were erected — 269 per day

# 2.4 million families live in shacks

# 3.2 million houses need electricity

# 3.5 million people lack clean water

Published in The Times (UK) February 25, 2006