South Africa: The merchants of promises are back in town

South Africa: The merchants of promises are back in town
  • PublishedApril 14, 2014

With elections fast approaching one more time, on 7 May, the big question in South Africa is whether the country is doing fine. While the ruling African National Congress (ANC) says yes, the opposition parties say a resounding no. But what do the ordinary people of South Africa themselves say? How are they going to vote in the coming elections? New African Johannesburg correspondent Pusch Commey reports

In 102 years of its existence, the African National Congress (ANC) has not faced as much bile from black people as it faces today, 20 years after it took the reins of power in what is now known as the Rainbow Nation. But if you ask the ANC top brass, they will tell you the nation is doing fine under their stewardship. This optimism was reflected in President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address on February 13. He had a good story to tell, he smiled, reeling out the “illustrious” achievements of his party since 1994. 

“The number of households with access to electricity stands at 12.1 million, which translates to 85% of the populace,” he told the nation. “Nine out of 10 households have access to water. With regard to social infrastructure, a total of 98 new schools will have been built by the end of March [2014]. The Grade 12 pass rate at the matric exams is finally on an upward trend. There is increased visibility of the police which has contributed to a reduction in the level of serious crime”.

On issues of life and death, President Zuma said: “Five years ago, South Africa had such a low life expectancy that experts suggested that by 2015, life expectancy would have been exactly where it was in 1955, but  studies from the Medical Research Council, the Lancet [Britain leading medical journal] and others have reported  a dramatic increase in life expectancy from an average baseline of 56 years in 2009 to 60 years in 2011. These reports also noted significant decreases in infant and under five mortality.”

The good news follows a laundry list of promises made during the launch of the ANC’s election manifesto in January. Among many others, the ANC said its government was going to “create six million work opportunities over the next five years; provide one million housing opportunities for qualifying households in urban and rural settlements over the next five years; [and] connect an additional 1.6 million homes to the electricity grid over the next five years.” 

Furthermore, the ANC would continue to work to achieve universal access to running water and decent sanitation, make two years of pre-school education compulsory, eradicate adult illiteracy, attend to teacher development, and improve the quality of basic education up to the senior grade. 

The government would also intensify the fight against corruption in both the public and private sectors, and ensure that public representatives were constantly in touch with the people and listen to people’s concerns and needs. While the government would move South Africa forward, the party would be more caring and solve the problems of the people. But as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

It is generally not in dispute, among all contesting parties, that South Africa’s problems are largely socio-economic. Everybody agrees that what will make or break the country are the triple evils of poverty, unemployment and inequality. At the root of it all is the issue of land, followed by capital, skilled labour, and productivity. And for all of these to come together to make an egalitarian, successful country, there have to be enabling conditions for all the citizenry, underpinned by affordable housing, good transportation, food security, and energy. A skilled labour force will depend on education and training.

The pre-1994 apartheid system was simple and straightforward. The philosophical underpinning was that blacks were inferior beings, not far removed from beasts of burden. Whites were superior. The cream of the entity called South Africa, the whites, cornered all the factors of production, namely land, labour and capital. 

Blacks constituted a cheap labour force to oil the wheels of land and capital which were firmly under white control. Blacks would help generate wealth for the lavish lifestyles of the whites. Meanwhile blacks were supposed to be satisfied with little, so they could do with no electricity, poor sanitation, poor housing, and an education that taught them to aspire to a lowly station. Jabulane Khoza, a lawyer in Johannesburg recalls: “At school, we were made to recite by rote poems in Afrikaans saying: ‘When I grow up, I want to be a bus driver.’ We were then made to simulate bus driving.”

Written By
Pusch Commey

Pusch Commey is a Barrister of the High Court of South Africa, Award winning writer and associate editor of New African Magazine since 1999. He is based in Johannesburg South Africa. He is the author of 9 books including the best selling 100 great African kings and queens, and Tofi's Fire Dance. He is also the CEO of the South African based Real African Publishers, and the founder of the Real African Writers  series.

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