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Uneven Growth Leaves South Africa's Poor Behind

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Uneven Growth Leaves South Africa's Poor Behind

Uneven Growth Leaves South Africa's Poor Behind

Uneven Growth Leaves South Africa's Poor Behind

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/91501256/91514633" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The fifth report in a six-part series.

South African workers at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, one of the stadiums being built for the 2010 World Cup. Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images

South African workers at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, one of the stadiums being built for the 2010 World Cup. The coming event has created many construction jobs, but not enough to solve South Africa's massive unemployment problem.

Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images

Construction site of Green Point Stadium in Cape Town, where the semifinals of the 2010 FIFA World Cup will take place. David Rogers/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption David Rogers/Getty Images

Construction site of Green Point Stadium in Cape Town, where the semifinals of the 2010 FIFA World Cup will take place. Projects like these have created some jobs, but not enough to solve South Africa's unemployment problem.

David Rogers/Getty Images

Reporter's Notebook

The heirs to Nelson Mandela's legacy battle among themselves, as the hope he inspired fades under the weight of unmet needs for the black masses. Charlayne Hunter-Gault reflects on two decades of reporting from South Africa.

A crowd armed with clubs, machetes and axes goes on a rampage May 20 during xenophobic clashes at the Reiger Park settlement on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

A crowd armed with clubs, machetes and axes goes on a rampage on May 20 during xenophobic clashes at the Reiger Park settlement on the outskirts of Johannesburg. High unemployment is one factor believed to have caused the eruption of violence.

Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

The coffin carrying the body of Ernisto Nhamuave, a Mozambican national who was killed during the clashes in South Africa, is lowered to its final resting place. AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption AFP/Getty Images

The coffin of Ernisto Nhamuave, a Mozambican national who was burned to death during violent xenophobic clashes in South Africa, is lowered to its final resting place on June 2 in his village in Vuca, Homoine, Mozambique. The worst of the violence was concentrated in and around Johannesburg, the country's economic capital and where foreigners have become targets of complaints by locals about high unemployment and crime levels.

AFP/Getty Images
South Africa
Alice Kreit/NPR
South Africa
Alice Kreit/NPR

Violent images that emerged this spring of poor South Africans attacking immigrants from neighboring countries have cast a spotlight on the nation's economic troubles.

Many believe the attacks were an expression of frustration by South Africans who are out of work and forced to compete for low-wage jobs with laborers from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi.

South Africa's official unemployment rate stands at more than 25 percent. And analysts say joblessness could be as high as 85 percent in informal settlements and townships.

The troubled situation being projected from South Africa is tainting the country's image as an economic success story.

Growth Not Reaching All

When Nelson Mandela and his revolutionary African National Congress party were on the verge of assuming power from the white minority government in 1994, he assured potential investors and wary businessmen that the ANC would pursue a capitalist economic path. True to his word, Mandela's government and that of his successor, President Thabo Mbeki, have done just that.

The two presidents earned praise, nationally and internationally, for their conservative fiscal policies. Their guidance took South Africa out of the negative growth inherited from the previous government and into an economic surplus within about 10 years.

Today, South Africa still has one of the strongest economies in the region. The middle class is expanding, and infrastructure is improving. The country's multibillion-dollar high-speed train project in the Johannesburg area is projected to generate some 18,000 jobs over the next 20 years, and major rail lines are expected to be finished in time for the country to host the 2010 World Cup. There is also a global demand for South African commodities such as gold and coal.

However, the May attacks underscored how this economic growth has not benefited all South Africans. In the sectors that are expanding, jobs are being created for skilled workers and professionals, but South Africa's many unskilled workers are largely being left behind.

Nandi Sibewu, a 28-year-old single mother, lives in a tiny house across the street from construction on the train project. Far from benefiting from the country's growth, she scrapes by on a welfare grant of $26 a month. Many nights, she says, her family goes to bed hungry.

A number of left-leaning politicians who have recently risen within the ANC are pushing for more government programs to help the poor.

A Loss of Confidence

Joblessness is not the country's only economic problem. Analyst Azar Jamine says the South African economy also is being undermined by a widespread loss of confidence in the government.

Toward the end of 2007, the country began experiencing widespread rolling blackouts as the result of a tight energy supply. These blackouts have had a devastating effect on society.

Morning talk show host John Robbie recalls getting a desperate phone call from a cardiologist who was in the middle of surgery when one of these blackouts occurred. Robbie managed to act as a liaison and persuade the energy company to turn the electricity back on.

"He was in the middle of treating a patient with a heart attack," Robbie says. "Imagine the situation."

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