[Marxism] As South Africa votes, this shanty town explains anger at the ANC
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Wed May 7 07:26:29 MDT 2014
The Christian Science Monitor - CSMonitor.com
As South Africa votes, this shanty town explains anger at the ANC
By Aislinn Laing, Correspondent / May 7, 2014 at 7:00 am EDT
Bekkersdal, South Africa
In this shanty town one hour outside Johannesburg, everything is filthy.
Water taps are shared between 20 blocks of cramped housing. The most
popular game for young children is seeing who makes the biggest splash
with rocks thrown in open sewers. Large rats scamper through the piles
of rubbish that seem constantly banked up at the end of every unpaved lane.
Today South Africans across the country go to the polls to elect their
national and provincial governments.
But while the ruling African National Congress will doubtless retain its
20-year grip on power, disaffection is building. Anger is rising over
the ANC's failure to tackle poverty or to stamp out corruption in its
ranks after being so long in power. And few places represent this anger
and failure more than the town of Bekkersdal.
The town has all the problems associated with "service delivery," as it
is known -- of delivering basics like decent electricity, water and
plumbing. The town has crime problems, much of it petty theft to fund
Â“Even when you hang your clothes out to dry, you have to watch them,"
says Boitumelo Nkuna, a local community leader. Otherwise, "they will be
[stolen] to sell and buy nyaope [a cocktail of marijuana, low-grade
heroin and ground-up HIV pills].
For weeks in the South African election run up, BekkersdalÂ’s citizens
have, like others around the country, been bombarded with party
pamphlets and visits by beaming politicians.
But thereÂ’s one party that residents wonÂ’t tolerate Â– the ruling ANC.
The ANC is the party legitimized and championed by South African hero
Nelson Mandela. Yet the ANC brand has deteriorated to such a degree that
when ANC provincial leaders risked campaigning here in March, they were
greeted with brickbats and burning tires, prompting their bodyguards to
open fire with live ammunition.
Bekkersdal citizens considered that event, according to Mr. Nkuna, as
their own Â“Marikana,Â” a reference to the shooting by troops of 34
striking miners in August 2012 in the town of Marikana, a case where the
ANC appeared to be involved. However, in the Bekkersdal instance, no one
Since then, Bekkersdal has become a virtual no-go zone for the ANC
ruling party. Its premier in the region, Nomvula Mokonyane, has
responded that she doesnÂ’t even want the community's Â“dirty votes.Â”
Nkuna says that with unemployment in the community at 80 per cent, and
with few basic amenities like running water, rubbish collection or
electricity, the ANC has no right to complain about the reception it gets.
Â“The ANC says on its election posters it has Â‘a good story to tell.Â’ But
what about us? Are we part of that good story? We have been abandoned,Â”
says the articulate young man, who trained to be an accountant but has
no prospect of work.
Nkuna is not alone in his disillusionment. While thereÂ’s little doubt
the ANC will be voted back into office for its fifth straight term on
May 7, few within the monolithic party dispute that its share of the
vote will drop. They even admit they could lose control of the
powerhouse Gauteng province that is home to Johannesburg and Pretoria,
To some extent, the waning support is inevitable for one of AfricaÂ’s
longest-serving liberation parties. ANC president Jacob Zuma argues that
it could never have reversed apartheidÂ’s legacy quickly enough for its
Even so, the noisy optimism of the ANC in this campaign season is not
eclipsing a widespread frustration at the slow pace of change in South
Africa, which has one of the biggest wealth gaps in the world.
The ANC government has rolled out social grants to 15 million people.
But with half of young 18- to- 24 year-olds absent from education,
employment or training, a "lost generation" has been created that will
never pay the taxes needed to fund a growing social security bill.
The ANC has had genuine success in getting children into school, in
boosting access to power and running water in some places, and of
maintaining economic growth and providing drugs to slow the progression
of HIV to Aids. It has built millions of apartments and houses.
But the number of informal shack dwellings in the country has increased.
The notoriously violent crime rates have turned upwards after years of
decline. And chronic and largely unchallenged government corruption has
seen public funds that might have changed lives siphoned off to elites.
Since November 2013, support for the ANC has dropped by a fifth -- to as
low as 53 percent of voters. The polling firm Ipsos blames the drop on
factors including fury about the police shooting at Marikana and the
recent $19 million in taxpayersÂ’ money spent on President ZumaÂ’s private
home in Nkandla, in the KwaZulu Natal region.
Although the ANC's share of the vote has improved slightly in polls this
month, it is still thought that it could dip below 60 per cent for the
first since 1994 when the ANC came to power.
This will be the first election in which the so-called Â“born freeÂ”
generation -- that never knew apartheid -- are eligible to vote. But a
lack of inspiring choices means that just over a third of them have
bothered to register.
Instead, ordinary born-frees are joining a growing number of violent
protests that operate in a destructive cycle -- where police often
respond with a level of force that results in deaths and serious
injuries, and that makes local folks even angrier.
In Bekkersdal, home to 150,000 people, the government pledged about $100
million for social projects including a brick factory, a sports stadium
and an information center that served also as job-search agency.
Large amounts of that allocated money seems to have disappeared from the
public coffers. The brick factory never opened. The only sign of a new
stadium is two rusting goal posts and a roofless clubhouse sitting on a
patch of open land.
Last year, the partly built information center was burned to the ground
by angry locals during riots.
Among those let down by the collapse of the ANCÂ’s investment in
Bekkersdal is Antonia Makereke, a trained nurse who scrapes a living as
a volunteer community care worker whose only compensation is paid expenses.
Each evening, Ms. Makereke arranges a torn pink mattress on the floor of
her two-roomed tin shack before helping her elderly mother to the
She kisses her children and grandchildren sleeping on sofas nearby
goodnight, fastens a small padlock to her door to deter the local drug
addicts, and snuffs out her paraffin lamp.
Cooking in the Makereke home takes place on a Primus or paraffin stove
that is illuminated by rays of sun that pierce both chinks in the walls
and bedsheets hung up to keep out the cold as winter approaches in this
part of the planet.
On the wall is a 2014 calendar featuring a South African flag and a
picture of Nelson Mandela. Next to it is pasted a tattered photograph of
Makereke in her nursing graduation gown.
In another corner is an old television projecting a fuzzy image of a
popular soap opera and a bare light bulb plugged into a dangling, sooty
Asked if she has power, Makereke looks shamefaced and says a Â“kind
neighborÂ” tapped her in to an illegal connection he rigged up via cables
that trail over the nearby road.
Twenty years ago, Makereke remembers, she joined the joyful queues that
formed across South Africa before sunrise to cast her first vote as a
black citizen of a new, full democracy that included her.
Like more than 12 million of her fellow countrymen, she excitedly put
her cross in the box of Nelson MandelaÂ’s ANC which pledged to build a
Â“better life for allÂ” after the inhumane treatment of blacks by whites
But today, as she goes to the polls again, she plans to abandon the
party that carried her dreams, and will vote instead for the opposition
Â“Democracy came but nothing changed here,Â” says Makereke. Â“IÂ’m voting DA
but IÂ’m not sure it will make a difference. These people promise us
things when they want us to vote for them. But the ANC made the promises
too and did nothing."
Gwede Mantashe, the ANC national Secretary General, said recently that
the spending on ZumaÂ’s home in Nkandla was simply a media obsession that
meant little to ordinary people.
But in Bekkersdal, it appears to have been the straw that broke the
Each person recites exactly how much was spent on the presidentÂ’s cattle
pens, swimming pool, private school and health clinic.
Thuli Madonsela, the official public watchdog who exposed Zuma and his
croniesÂ’ profligacy in a recent, damning report, is a hero here.
Â“I canÂ’t say the name of that place, it makes me crazy,Â” says Sylvia
Mantshupi, who holds a carpentry diploma she can find no use for. Â“I
donÂ’t have a job so I canÂ’t afford to buy my son shoes.Â”
She points to an unsmiling, dusty little boy who clutches her lower leg.
Â“We paid for a playground for Zuma's kids, but our kids play among rats
Far from going to their local ANC representative to complain about the
squalid conditions, locals stay away. They are afraid of the two
security guards paid to guard his home, which is hidden behind high,
whitewashed walls topped with razor wire and plastered with ANC posters.
They refuse to point out the house by foot, saying the party official
would arrange for them and their families to be Â“shot.Â”
Â“HeÂ’s the biggest tsotsi (gangster) here,Â” one said. Â“He isnÂ’t from
here. The ANC put him here but we never see him. Most of them have big
houses elsewhere and only come here from time to time.Â”
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