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South Africa; The enduring Struggle
On first impressions Cape Town is a city of the most astute calibre, its wide, carefully planned avenues ensconced between structures of pristine concrete and sheen glass suggest it be a modern metropolis, not unlike those that may be found in the Antipodeon reaches of the North. The densely vegetated Southern suburbs located at the foot of the imposing Table Mountain are akin to what may be experienced in burgeoning margins of Dublin, Los Angeles or Barcelona. The beach front properties of Bantry Bay, with their unhindered vantage of where the two great oceans of the Atlantic and Indian meet, provides an idyllic paradise for those fortunate enough to have the faculty to avail of the treats offered by such a utopia. The trendy Cafes, the untarnished esplanades and the throngs of bronzed bodies that litter the unblemished beaches of the Cape would entice even the most prudish clientele. The proposition of a rejuvenated and flourishing Cape Town may lend one to believe that this symptomatic of the current South Africa. Such postulating would prove to be fallacious in the extreme.

I pictured South Africa to be a country of sizeable inequity, where the white population lived comfortably in conditions similar to that of those who populate any prosperous Western nation, whilst I imagined the disadvantaged black community to be poor but still able to avail of the material required for a decent living; insulated homes, electricity, running water and access to adequate transport. Not only did I envisage such particulars, I assumed that the Rainbow Nation, the “New South Africa” so constantly invoked and effectively publicised was one where the alleviation of poverty and the transformation of the populous from a previously subjugated realm to a new and modern society was constant.

Such optimism is promptly extinguished on venturing beyond the lush surroundings of the Southern Cape. Journeying north, through the exquisite vineyards of Constantia, on the route leading east passed Cape Town International Airport I could easily deduce that the prominent districts of Bantry Bay, Stellenbosch and Clifden lulled the inexperienced traveller into the pretence that South Africa was a nation of a  prosperous and progressive distinction.

On leaving Cape Town, I was faced with the grim reality that confronts millions of South Africans. The façade of Cape Town with its shimmering Skyscrapers, tree-lined streets and spacious squares gives way to an expanse of ground that portrays South Africa for what it really is, a place of deep-seated division and massive inequality. The modernity of a South African highway is flanked with scenes of such a rustic nature that they would seem to be more suited to a Dickensian novel than to a ‘modern’ economy. The vast sprawl that reaches to the horizon is that of the Cape Flats. It’s an amalgamation of tin shacks; decrepit, miniscule bungalows and decaying local authority housing. On viewing this sheer melting pot of humanity I came to assume that the South Africa of hope and prosperity, so brightly aspired to by gentlemen such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Steve Biko, was far from its realization.
The dirt floors, the steeled walls and fibre glass roofs of Soweto and Cape Flats are not mere remnants of the Apartheid era but a continual provision of the new South Africa. Water is a precious commodity and those who may have the opportunity to receive electricity fail to experience the perpetual twenty four hour flows that furnish almost every form of accommodation in the developed world. The division of wealth is immense and the stark contrast between poor and rich is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. If a car of recent manufacture is on the road chances are its occupants are white, those that frequent nice restaurants are whites living in relative luxury while those that wait on them are black and live in conditions we would deem unacceptable by European standards. The plethora of wealth to be found in the worlds 21st largest economy can be found in the infrastructure; the telecommunications; the commercial and industrial districts of Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Johannsberg; and in the gated and fabricated homes of an ethnic group that accounts for only 12 percent of the population. The one place you will not experience the fruits of South Africa’s prosperity is in the townships that populate the length and breadth of the nation.

The Republic of South Africa is a first world economy with a third world population. The vast arrays of denizens that constitute the majority black population live in circumstances of an appalling nature. The life expectancy stands at only 42, the numbers living with HIV or AIDS is 5.3 million and counting, while the infant mortality rate is that of 59 per 1000 live births. The numbers of unemployed is immense, the most conservative estimate puts it at 25 percent, the rate among black South Africans is significantly higher. While the growth presided over by Thabo Mbeki has consistently been at 5 percent per annum, this has been jobless growth and the harsh realities of unemployment is brought home when one views the stratospheric rate of crime that is now an ever present property of current day South Africa. Violent criminality is spiralling towards unheralded reaches, the murder rate stands at almost 50 a day, while the levels of rape, assault and robbery point to the growing resignation among South Africa’s poor. Many observers proclaim it to be the most dangerous region outside of an actual war zone, the manifestation of such a threat can be seen in the actions of the middle class. Those that can afford live in gated communities, armed security groups enjoy constant demand for their services, and the possession of weapons and other measures with which to guard against attack are readily purchased. Whether it be health or crime, the anxieties faced by South Africans are consistently compounded by an enveloping crescendo of new crises; the spread and threat of HIV and AIDS, overwhelming numbers in the corrections system and a new wave of refugees fleeing from the hell that is Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. The ANC government headed by Thabo Mbeki, the one source that should be responsible for the welfare of the suffering, has so far failed to deliver the solutions necessary for a fairer, healthier and more safe society.

The ANC, once a focal point of leftist ideology, has abandoned its paternal roots in favour of more ‘pragmatic’ policy. The growing incompetence and fragmentation of a party devoid of its principles was manifested in a situation that occurred 8 years ago, it illustrated the betrayal of its original cause and clear lack of foresight among the hierarchical members of the legislative branch. The government saw it fit that South Africa, a state devoid of any competent public services, should seek private sector solutions to public sector problems. Clean water, a valued commodity in most African countries, is abundantly available in South Africa. The government, if it wished, could provide the entire populous with a readily available source. Rather than permit such quantities through public means, the government instead took a leaf from the book of Thatcherism. It installed pre-paid water meters in the poorest districts of Johannesburg. The advent of such meters was to be of the most horrid consequence. In 2000, the residents of Madlebe in KwaZulu Natal were fitted with the pre-paid meters. Many citizens could ill-afford to pay for such fixtures. They drew water from the nearby rivers as a result. The inevitable outbreak of cholera infected over 100,000 and killed 260. The gross mismanagement and total inept displayed by the ANC belies the era of hope it inspired among masses in its fight against racial subjugation. The party is now characterised by cronyism, greed and mounting levels of graft and corruption. The current spate of infighting and political wrangling has added to the despair of its followers and pointed to the fragility of a party that was once in supreme solidarity behind the inspirational figure of Nelson Mandela.

Inequality is a constant property of a liberal democracy and those of a rational disposition should accept that as such. The problem lies in the degree of economic imbalance. The disadvantaged of modern states have the provisions of a welfare state; they have access to modern housing, health care, public transport, education and the opportunity to progress in life. The current administration has failed to adequately deliver the means with which to further the advance of their nation toward a new dawn of greater equality, prosperity and most of all opportunity. The quandary of South Africa is not a problem that shall be solved overnight, and to blame a single entity for the present state of the country would be unfair. The white population do hold the majority of wealth, but they are diligent workers and despite the nightmare of apartheid, they managed to construct the means that allowed South Africa to become the wealthiest (though inequitable) state in Sub-Saharan Africa. There is also no doubt, in my mind at least, that the majority of the white population hold no malice towards the black community and accept the further integration of South African society. The government, despite its recent difficulties, has tried to alleviate the problems of mass poverty. Mandela sought to construct millions of homes so as to adequately accommodate those who resided in the slums, this was an initial success but since his departure the problem has persisted and reached new heights. It seems that the only way forward is for the ANC, or whoever resides in power, to take more positive measures with regards to the redistribution of wealth and the provision of public services. The government must free itself of its vices and take firm convicted actions against those who may wish to manipulate it so as to further their own material ends. Those that may feel the pinch of government legislation must accept that the provisions of their taxation shall be for the progression of South African and embrace the virtues of civic duty and aid those less fortunate through whatever means they deem necessary. In a climate of such empathy and compassion the progression of the ‘Rainbow State’ will become an inevitable reality.

South Africa is a country of immense beauty, both in geographical and humanitarian terms. The rolling hills, the sun kissed beaches and the lush vineyards, scenes of the most enticing aesthetics gravitate one to pronounce the uncompromising allure of such a land. The virtues of its terrain are matched only by the nature of its populous. Regardless of race or creed, South Africans are of the most congenial disposition. They constitute a society of the utmost potential. The revolution of change heralded with the end of apartheid has been painfully slow and in many cases found to be regressive in nature. There are more South Africans subsisting in dire poverty than ever before, unemployment is rampant and for those luckily enough to obtain work , the pay is so meagre that it offers mere ration and little opportunity to achieve a better and more enrichening livelihood. The rigours of a post-apartheid world continue to subordinate the majority to the will of the minority. Until the shackles of greed and intolerance are snapped, the capacity for South Africa to take its place at the table of the modern world shall be continually stymied. The fruits of this great nation need to be spread on more egalitarian lines, those that suffer in silence need to be afforded not just the opportunity but the means with which to live a better and more prosperous existence. The environs of Soweto and the Cape Flats need to become districts of hope were the habitation of tin clad shacks is no more than just a fading memory. The struggle continues and hope still resides.


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