Many South Africans Still Await Basic Services

Frustration is growing in South Africa about the slow pace of change under the post-apartheid government. Much of the optimism that followed the election of Nelson Mandela as president in 1994 has evaporated.

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We're going next to South Africa, where there's growing frustration about the slow pace of change under the post-apartheid government. Much of the optimism that followed the election of Nelson Mandela as President in 1994 has evaporated, and that's particularly true in poor, black townships. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Cape Town.

(Soundbite of people talking, high-pitched sound)

JASON BEAUBIEN reporting:

At 5:30 in the morning, in the township of Khayelitsha, the sun is just coming up, and people are in a hurry. Residents flow out from the narrow alleyways between shacks and hustle towards the train station. Most are rushing to low-wage, menial jobs in the center of Cape Town. Thirty-eight year old Noba Temboo(ph), who works as a maid, says little has changed for her in the new South Africa.

Ms. NOBA TEMBOO (Cape Town citizen): I am living in a shack. There's not electricity to where I live in there, there's no toilets, there's no water.

BEAUBIEN: Temboo says she's confident that the National government is trying to tackle these problems, but she says local bureaucrats waste the money from Pretoria. Khayelitsha's cobbled together woods and tin shacks are packed against one another on a stretch of sand near Cape Town's airport. In 2005, riot police clashed with protesters at informal settlements across the country, including here, over the slow delivery of government services. The government has vowed to build proper houses for residents, but the construction is taking years.

Last year, the government unveiled its first new housing development for Khayelitsha. The tiny, stucco cottages are painted bright pastel colors, but there are only 165 of them, for a township of more than 20,000 people. Even some of the new occupants complain about the houses. Wokoman Cloglo(ph), who got a two-bedroom on a corner plot, says his house wasn't finished when he was given the key, and he says many of his neighbors had to pay several thousand dollars to get their homes.

Mr. WOKOMAN CLOGLO (Cape Town resident): These houses is supposed to be free, but people, they are paying lot of money. It's not right.

BEABIEN: And Cloglo says he was oppressed under Apartheid, and he's being oppressed now by another system.

KLOKLO: I want to tell you the truth, where the problem comes from. Those people who are lived in this project from the government, or from the local government, they are corrupt. They are corrupt.

BEAUBIEN: The slogan for the ruling African National Congress during the last round of elections in 2004 was Prosperity for All. A more fitting phrase might have been, Prosperity for Some. A black economic empowerment program has created a new class of millionaires, and fueled the rise of a black middleclass, but it's done little to address the huge gap between the rich and the poor.

South Africa is the continent's largest economy, and has posted impressive economic growth of about four percent a year recently, but almost half the population still lives on less than two dollars a day. Mototo Ghamana(ph), an ANC ward councilor who represents Khayelitsha, says the government faced huge challenges during it's first decade in power, and he says people's expectations of the new black government in 1994 were incredibly high.

Mr. MOTOTO GHAMANA (Ward Councilor, Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa): That would (unintelligible) but (unintelligible) we are governing. People tend to understand that, I mean, we cannot change what has been done in many decades ago within the throat of Kenya, but we are going there.

BEAUBIEN: The ANC government has made significant gains in providing electricity, clean water, and new schools in many parts of the country. Ghamana is standing outside of a new government health clinic that opens in 2004. The building is modern with a bright, sunlit waiting room, but the reception is crowded with several hundred people who've been there since before dawn. Ghamana says the clinic is an example of how much work still needs to be done.

Mr. GHAMANA: We are proud that we are helping this kind of a clinic currently, but the sources that have been provided, I mean, they are not up to standard, shortage of (unintelligible). I've been in the clinic inside. They're never speaking with the patients that they will be having only one doctor today, and only 30 patients that will be attended to. I mean, it's not acceptable.

BEAUBIEN: Earlier this month, a fire swept through one section of Khayelitsha. It destroyed about a hundred shacks in its path. The local government gave each fire victim five new pieces of galvanized tin, or about enough for half a roof. This, in a city where a three bedroom with an ocean view can sell for a million dollars.

(Soundbite of African music)

BEAUBIEN: The most common public transportation vehicles here are beat up, white mini-vans that South Africans call taxis. At the central taxi stand in Khayelitsha, Miranda Untatay(ph) sells dresses from a wooden shack.

MIRANDA UNTATAY (Resident, Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa): When is rainfall, I can't come here, because it is come for make my dresses wet, you see?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah.

Ms. UNTATAY: That is a problem.

BEAUBIEN: She says she's grateful for the end of Apartheid, because before 1994, she wasn't even allowed to sell her dresses on the street. The new government promised to build market stalls for vendors such as Untatay at the taxi stand, but that still hasn't happened.

Ms. UNTATAY: After they come, before, with their forms, taking our names, I.D., everything, and then he said you must wait, wait for today, until today, we are only waiting.

BEAUBIEN: And many of the people who suffered the most under the apartheid regime are still waiting for a new South Africa. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Cape Town.

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