‘The gap between rich and poor has not changed’: As South Africa mourns, its most deprived say that Nelson Mandela’s vision has not been realised

Andrew Buncombe — The Independent Dec 8, 2013

In the street next to the single-room shack in which Nelson Mandela lived when he first came to this city, a group of mourners dressed in funeral black and white was forming a line.

Margaret Msipi and the others were there to say goodbye to a friend, Khali Mufiwa, who had died on Thursday. As they waited for a post-funeral lunch of rice and chicken, served in polystyrene boxes, they also reflected on the loss of Mandela, who had died the same day, and spoke with sadness of how little some things had changed since the neighbourhood’s most famous son was a resident.

When Mandela moved to the north-eastern Johannesburg township of Alexandra in 1940 and rented a room at 46 Seventh Avenue, he made do without electricity or running water and later recalled hungry children running around.

Yet, more than 70 years on, for many in Alexandra and in countless similar places across the country the situation in some respects is little different. And as millions of South Africans yesterday continued to celebrate Mandela’s achievements it was in the still marginalised neighbourhoods that people insisted the revolution started by the country’s first black president had yet to be completed.

“He gave us free schools and clinics but we have no houses – we are all still living in shacks,” said Mrs Msipi, 69, whose husband died 15 years ago. “And there are no jobs – the young people cannot get jobs. I have four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. They are all living on my pension.”

Among the most distressing parts of Alexandra is the S’swetla “squatter camp”, located next to the cemetery where Mrs Msipi and the other mourners had buried their friend. Here, up to 5,000 people live in shacks separated by narrow, uncovered alleys, where pigs forage in the rubbish and homes still have no electricity. Water comes from a handful of pumps, and a line of portable lavatories are what passes for sanitation.

Michael Ngobeni, a community activist, led a tour past the homes that ended on the edge of a polluted stretch of the Jukskei river. Every year, he said, people drowned when it flooded.

“Mandela’s death is a great loss to the nation, but over the last 20 years nothing has happened to us,” said Mr Ngobeni. “When you talk about freedom you cannot say we have tasted freedom. We don’t have electricity, proper water. It’s very bad.”

Figures released last year showed that while the incomes of black households had increased by an average of 169 per cent over the past 10 years, they are a sixth of those of white households. “These figures tell us that at the bottom of the rung is the black majority who continue to be confronted by deep poverty, unemployment and inequality,” President Jacob Zuma said.

Few blamed Mandela yesterday. Rather, they said, the leaders who followed in his wake had struggled to deliver. Several claimed that some politicians had fallen foul of corruption.

“Obviously we are not equal. We are a young democracy,” said Jabulani Maqwaza, a black businessman who was watching a multi-racial crowd gather in Sandton’s Nelson Mandela Square, centre of the wealthiest square mile in Africa and now home to a huge statue of the former leader. “But you would not have seen this before 1994. He created the opportunity for us to at least have a stake in the economy.”

Mr Maqwaza, 31, pointed out that Mandela’s most important mandate was not about the economy but about ending the racial conflict and persuading both communities to learn to trust. “Just to get stability – that was the most important thing,” he said.

Two white women, Anita Pratt and Susan Vanzyl, both admirers of the late president, said they were struck by how humble he appeared and how they had never heard accusations of corruption levelled at him. Yet they said they were not as impressed by everyone within the African National Congress (ANC) party.

“A lot of promises were made but they were not followed up,” said Mrs Pratt, who voted for Mandela’s campaign when he secured his historic victory in 1994. “There are social problems, unemployment.”

In the Houghton neighbourhood, where Mandela died, the homes are hidden behind high walls topped with razor wire and signs warning that armed response units are on duty. Crowds gathered at the junction nearest to Mandela house to lay flowers, cards and messages. From the family, last night, came their first statement after his death: “We have lost a great man, a son of the soil whose greatness in our family was in the simplicity of his nature in our midst,” they said.

Continues …

Comment — Dec 8, 2013

The Independent article doesn’t dwell on some obvious points as it trots out the tired old clichés that are used repeatedly when the corporate media covers S. Africa.
Having lived in Jo’burg for many years I know from experience that Houghton is one of the city’s most exclusive suburbs. It is also home to many of South Africa’s top mining executives. So having left Alexandra Mandela and his entourage joined them in one of the most affluent suburbs in Africa. Leaving the residents of Alexandra to remain mired in poverty, like most of the rest of black South Africa.
It’s a telling point that Mandela spent his final days in the affluent, tree-lined Houghton.
It’s also significant that the Independent doesn’t elaborate on it. For the only real beneficiaries from the transition from white minority rule were the trans-national corporations. In particular mining giant Anglo-American corporation, many of whose top executives reside in Houghton.
Originally founded by Rothschild associate Ernest Oppenheimer and JP Morgan, Anglo-American dominates the mining sector: a field that South Africa is richly endowed with in gold, diamonds and other mineral deposits.
For years under white minority rule Anglo-American was at odds with the former nationalist government. It was only tolerated, if despised by the largely Afrikaner white nationalist governments, because of its monopoly control over South Africa’s mineral reserves.
For its part Anglo-American corporation played a key role bringing about Mandela’s release and subsequent elevation to power: through the local media, especially through the English language press which Anglo-American virtually monopolised, and through South Africa’s liberal white politicians, many of whom were and still are closely connected to the mining giant.

People gather for a memorial service for the 44 miners killed at Marikana mine. Click to enlarge

In return, Anglo-American retains its mining monopoly in addition to now having the ears of many key members of the ruling ANC. This has allowed Anglo-American to deal with labour unrest in much the same way as the white nationalist government used against political unrest in the past. However, now Anglo-American has the ruling ANC’s tacit approval to do so.

So in one sphere at least the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Meaning that for Anglo-American Corporation the transition to black majority rule has been a win-win situation.