April 14 was a day many people anticipated with just one thing on their minds: ‘It’s Election Day; let’s go make our marks!’ For me, it was not. I am one of the kwere kweres – foreigners – in town. As a result, I had no civic responsibility to fulfil on Election Day. However, I decided to be useful in some other ways.
I surmised April 14 was a great day in the historical annals of this country. Therefore, I thought if I were not an active participant through the ballot box, being a spectator would be equally significant. But, before I stepped out to embrace what that day embodied, I had to tackle an issue: where is the greatest stage where both angst and joy would be amply and equally represented?
I didn’t want to see the drama unfold before my eyes in areas one would consider the usual suspects: downtown or the townships where the multitude of South Africa’s ordinary folks would plod the dust with their feet because hope is dead or beat the concrete pavements into pulp with their great march triggered by the excitement gingered by freedom! Consequently, I headed for some of the suburbs where the affluent, those aspiring to be rich, and those pretending to be influential call home.
In Johannesburg, I drove through Olivedale, Bryanston, Randburg and Sandton. I made a detour into Kelvin just to have a glimpse of the ways of some of the comfortable people in our society. I made for Pretoria, too. Since I am not very familiar with the region, I went where my nose led me after asking for directions here and there. I took a bird eye view of the places, and settled for Elardus Park.
In all these places, a character stuck our like a sore thumb. There was no elation in the air. The breeze was still while the sun shined ferociously. There was no laughter on the faces of people emerging from the cosiness of their cars into the harshness of the weather as they went about what they considered important that day. Basically, it was business as usual.
In Johannesburg North, I could not find many polling stations or people behaving as if they were going to vote. Only one was conspicuous enough for me to observe without much pain. Perhaps, the mansions, the newly constructed big townhouses, and those villas under construction had overwhelmed the little white tents the Independent Electoral Commission had set up in their shadows. However, there was no sign or flow of people towards a particular location to suggest some electoral activity was taking place. It was same in Kelvin and in Pretoria East. Even when I stopped and asked, no one could say definitely where I could find polling stations. Yet, it was the area where they have their habitation.
“I think one would expect now that we are celebrating 10 years of democracy there will be a kind of atmosphere that reflects our joy. It is extremely quiet here. Nothing much is happening,” Vusi Pule said to me in Pretoria moments after he cast his votes somewhere.
His aridness was not misplaced. Late last year, the government announced that it had ear marked R80 million for a freedom bash spread over two financial years. The programme was flagged of February 6 this year and it is expected to culminate in a big event at the Union Buildings in Pretoria April 27.
Ordinarily, in a typical African fashion, one would have expected the roads to be adorned with beautiful colours that will bring life to the streets just as music makers jostle for space in the hearts of the people because of the fact that there are just too many activities fighting for their attention. That is, with such an amount. However, this is not the case. The roads were drab, except for some billboards dotting the landscape proclaiming a big do that is yet to be felt by the ordinary folks.
Ten years after the demise of apartheid and the enthronement of majority rule, disillusionment is palpable in most places, especially amongst the youth.
“Now I am free, but I am still hungry because there are no jobs. I don’t know why I should vote. It is the same. No changes,” Hadley Mhlari said to me with disdain in his voice. He is a young black male who should have been voting for the first time in a free South Africa.
For him, the gains of political independence have been swallowed up by the tainted political practice that has been associated with a few walking the corridors of power.
“Politics is business,” he said angrily. “If we vote somebody in today, tomorrow he will be driving a posh car whereas the people are suffering. My one vote can’t make a difference. So, why bother?”
This kind of apathy that runs deep amongst the ordinary black folks of the now democratic South Africa rubbishes the cherished freedom that made Nelson Mandela and other freedom fighters forfeit their individual liberty for decades.
“Life was better before our government. Jobs were plenty. The only problem was that the whites were harassing blacks. I can prefer the white government as long as they don’t harass us,” Patrick, a 28 year old taxi driver at the Johannesburg International Airport, said to me. Blunt as he was, he refused to reveal his surname because of the fears of reprisals.
Presently, he earns R1 500 a month for driving a taxi for a white car owner. He has a wife who is jobless and a child who goes to school. The amount is not enough, he said.
“If I say I don’t want to work [because of the amount he earns], where am I going to get money?” Because of this, he submitted strongly that a tough future still awaits him as a black man in the now democratic South African society. His predicament is worsen by the fact that the white South Africans still control the economy.
“When you go to a white man [in search of an employment] he would say ‘go to Mandela’. I don’t feel good when they tell me that.”
Vusi Pule, who participated in the first democratic election in 1994, abstained from exercising his civic right in 1999 because he felt betrayed by the government that he had voted for.
“1994 was a very emotional moment for everybody because it was the first time people got to vote. In 1999, I didn’t vote because a lot of things were not going right and there was not really an alternative. Therefore, I abstained since I could not vote for a party that would not further the aims I believe in. I am from the townships. Every time I go back there and see what changes really happened, nothing is really visible; yet these are the people that really needed the changes. The delivery is slow. This time, I have voted for another party.”
Claims like this irk Daniel Melato, another youth who works as a security man in Sandton. With passion, he condemns views like Pule’s.
“You can’t change the evils of 45 years of apartheid in 10 years. We now have sanitation in the townships, we have reconstructed and development programme houses and we also have clean water in most places. The government has tried, but we are expecting too much.”
The ANC government that has held the reins of power in South Africa since 1994 actually thinks it has done much for the citizenry.
In a document that reviews the implementation of government programmes since the end of apartheid, Frank Chikane, a Director-General at the Presidency said: “The attainment of democracy in 1994 presented government with twin challenges: significant institutional transformation and at the same time introducing new policies in line with the democratic Constitution. Secondly, the government had to deal with the legacy of Apartheid within South Africa, whilst at the same time facing new challenges of integrating the country in a rapidly changing global environment.”
As a result, he continued, “Since 1994, the State has deliberately set out systematically and deliberately to dismantle Apartheid social relations and create a democratic society based on the principles of equity, non-racialism and non-sexism.”
The implication of this is that a lot of the government’s energy has been channelled towards obliterating the legacy of the Apartheid System that has been enshrined in the body polity since the enactment of apartheid laws in 1948.
While presenting its stewardship report since 1994, the government argued that it has been engaged in a vigorous process of transformation that includes a new Constitution, which was adopted in 1996; transformation of the state machinery through massive changes to almost all policy that led to the introduction of new legislation at the average of about 90 Acts per annum in the first nine years. This means that since 1994 over 789 laws or Amendment Acts aimed at reconfiguring South African society were adopted.
The government also has instituted programmes that are designed to alleviate poverty, according to its own 10-year review.
“At least two major programmes of the government address income poverty in the form of income grants and public works programmes. There are at least seven types of grants currently administered by the Department of Social Development and these are targeted at pensioners, poor families with children, war veterans, foster care and grants in aid for families taking care of children and people in need.”
The expenditure on these social grants, the government claims, has increased by 3.5 times between 1994 and 2003 from R10 billion to 34.8 billion. Also, the number of beneficiaries has increased from 2.6 million to 6.8 million.
Beside these, the government is of the viewpoint that it has accomplished great feats in the area of education in spite of the general belief amongst some disgruntled blacks that it has failed to deliver.
Expenditure on education remains the largest budgetary item in South Africa, the government said.
“For early childhood development there has been a steady increase in enrolment in the reception year, with enrolment increasing from approximately 150 000 to 280 000 between 1999 and 2002, suggesting that full enrolment will be reached by 2015. Gross primary school enrolment has remained steady at around 98.5% between 1995 and 2001. Gross secondary enrolment is currently approximately 85% indicating a 15% increase from 1992. The learner-to-facility ratio has also declined from 43:1 in 1996 to 38:1 in 2001, indicating that learners are getting better access to classroom facilities.”
Government believes it has also recorded some laudable achievements in the dispensation of healthcare services.
“Public healthcare expenditure has increased in the last eight years although real per capita expenditure has remained between R967 and R907.”
To date, there are 4350 primary healthcare access points available to the population. In terms of clinics alone, statistics show an increase of 701 additional clinics nationally. Major programmes of the Department of Health include free healthcare policy for women and children under the age of six.
As one of its laurels, the government is quick at flaunting the record of its immunisation programme, which it said has shown an increase between 1994 and 2002 from 63% to 72% nationally, although it acknowledged provincial disparities remain. The same goes for the fight against HIV/Aids and TB.
Still on the social front, the government postulated 9 million citizens or about 3.7 million additional households have gained access to water between 1995 and 2003. This set the public coffers back with approximately R5 billion in the period under review.
In terms of sanitation, while agreeing that progress has been slow, the government stated that 63% of the citizenry has access to sanitation as against 49% of households in 1994.
Meeting the housing needs of the populace, especially in the townships, has cost the government some R24.22 billion as subsidies for the construction of 1 985 545 facilities. It also revealed that in an attempt to redistribute housing facilities built in the Apartheid era, 481 373 houses were transferred to new occupants through the discount benefit scheme established by the democratic government; these were people who obviously belonged to the old unprivileged class. Its cost to the government was approximately R3.6 billion while the replacement cost of the houses, which is the value to occupants, was R24 billion. In essence, the government had invested R48 billion in housing assets that have been transferred to citizens since 1994.
The greatest problem the government had tried to redress since the inception of democracy in South Africa is that of land restitution. Its achievement here is very obscured since the majority of the people banished to the townships by the Apartheid system are still holed up in now desolate, wasted communities. However, the government says it is gaining grounds.
“Since 1994, 1.8 million hectares of land have been transferred under the redistribution programme to about 137 478 households. Approximately 80% of these transfers occurred between 1997 and 2002. By 2002, approximately 68 000 claims had been lodged of which 72% were urban and 285 rural. A total of 36 489 claims have been settled involving about 85 000 households.” The total cost to government is put at approximately R442 million.
Great steps no doubt. Siphiwe Diamond concurred with the government: “ANC has done a lot of things and it would be wrong for someone who voted for it in the past to go a different way this time. A vote for another government will set the country back because it will change the strategy of the country for growth.”
“I am proud to be a South African,” Bridget Fleming, a youthful white lady who teaches Geography in Johannesburg, said to me while waiting to cast her vote that morning at one of the voting centres in Jukskei Park.
“In 10 years look at how far we have gone! Different cultures are mixing, there has been no war and we have managed to do all these in a matter of 10 years without a major strife. I think it is quite stunning. I woke up this morning feeling quite positive. I feel so proud of my country.”