It took 12 years after the end of apartheid for the Waterworks shantytown to get running water, and 17 years for the ruling ANC to face a voter backlash from its disenchanted residents.
In Waterworks and many similar settlements across South Africa, the biggest issue for municipal elections on May 18 is the unfulfilled dream of African National Congress rule.
“Our lives are stuck. We are using the same things that were here under the apartheid government,” said Sipho Kadi, who lives in the Waterworks settlement west of Johannesburg, Reuters reports.
Many voters believe the liberation party has failed to make good on its promise to help the black poor who suffered racial oppression throughout much of the 20th century. Some speak of a new “class apartheid” every bit as harsh as the old system.
In Waterworks and a myriad of such places, residents walk well-trodden dirt paths among ageing corrugated tin shacks, still waiting for electricity, sanitation and the most basic services to help lift them out of abject poverty.
Kadi is doing what was unthinkable a few years ago, openly supporting the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) which was once perceived as the party of white privilege. “We have been here since before the end of apartheid. There is still no electricity and no jobs. There is no development,” Kadi said.
The ANC is expected to take an easy victory next week due to its stranglehold on politics coming from its role in bringing down white-minority rule. But this poll may show that its grip on power is weakening.
Voters are expected to show they are fed up by either not casting ballots or switching to the likes of the DA. It has campaigned as the party of good governance for all and won 15 percent of the vote in the last municipal race in 2006, when the ANC took 66.3 percent.
Since then, the ANC has faced violent “service delivery protests” by tens of thousands of the poor who feel they have become the underclass of Africa’s biggest economy.
The protests which numbered just two in 2006, hit a record 111 in 2010, according to research group Municipal IQ.
ANC governments have spent tens of billions of dollars to improve the lives of the poor. “Our message is simple and factual. We have made substantial progress in improving access to basic services to our people,” President Jacob Zuma said this month.
But results have been mixed, with large portions of funding lost to corruption and incompetence, further angering the poor.
If the DA or other opposition groups gain ground, the ANC may try to win support through further massive spending, making it more difficult for the Treasury to rein in a budget deficit, undermining bonds and raising the costs of overseas borrowing.
The biggest expenditure has been on education but the results have been poor. South Africa ranked 130th out of 139 countries in a recent World Economic Forum survey on quality of education, while Zuma has had to implore teachers to show up for work and stay until the final school bell.
The economy has mostly posted steady gains since the ANC took over, helping to enrich the upper and middle classes, further distancing them from the poor.
“We have not been able to overcome this class apartheid that we are living with, which is just as harsh as the apartheid we used to live under,” said Orlean Naidoo, community scholar at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Civil Society.
“More of these protests need to happen in order for the government to realise what they are doing it not right. They are physically showing that the people have been forgotten.”
WATER, ELECTRICITY AND PROMISES
According to a development report by the South African presidency, the percentage of the population living in poverty dropped from 53 percent in 1995, a year after the ANC took over, to 49 percent in 2008.
The percentage of households with access to minimum sanitation — which the government defines as a “ventilated improved pit latrine” — increased from just over half in 1994/5 to almost three quarters in 2008/9. Access to electricity has also increased by the about same rate over the period.
“There are these huge backlogs, and in a context of high inequality, people notice when others move forward and they are left behind,” said Miriam Altman of the Human Sciences Research Council and commissioner of the Presidency’s National Planning Commission.
“When people are complaining, it is not that delivery might be slow, or what they expect, but because of this experience, they are frustrated. You will never be delivering enough to satisfy that feeling,” she said.
Back in Waterworks, the ANC has plastered posters on shacks and made sure the four outside taps allotted to several hundred families have running water.
“People are confused about who to vote for. So many parties have been here,” said resident Thomas Motloi.
“One thing that is for sure is that after the election, they will all be gone.”