Thursday, July 17, 2008

a better life for all

"We don't have houses, we don't have jobs, we don't have anything," said Cyril Mthembu, a 42-year-old unemployed father of three who has lived in Alexandra for 28 years. "So, we are fighting over the little we have."

When apartheid ended in 1994, Mbeki's African National Congress estimated it needed 3 million homes. Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu told parliament earlier this year 2.6 million homes had been built since 1994. But with population growth, migration to the cities and other factors, the housing backlog stands at 2.1 million.Sisulu's department has said it needs to double the rate at which it is delivering homes if it is to reach the goal of ensuring all South Africans — native and newly arrived — have adequate housing by 2024. But the department acknowledges it lacks technical and management skills and that it has been plagued by supply shortages and poor construction.

The frustration among poor blacks has played out in attacks against foreigners, who often end up in squatter camps in Alexandra and elsewhere. South Africa draws immigrants from war-torn Somalia, from Zimbabwe with its political and economic chaos and from Nigeria, where corruption and military rule have blocked growth.The anger has also led to riots over the lack of electricity and running water, and complaints that the houses the government has managed to build are shoddy.

In South Africa, most blacks are the product of an apartheid system meant to ensure they did not gain the skills to compete with whites, with black schools under-equipped and staffed with teachers who in some cases had not finished school themselves. The post-apartheid government has not done enough to reverse that legacy, Gelb , an economist at Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand, said.

"What people are looking for is not a handout, but something that points the way to the future," Gelb said.

Mbeki is credited with spurring growth in South Africa with free market policies, but the boom has yet to trickle down. Unemployment is more than 20 percent, and now a downturn due in part to rising global food and fuel prices — and a dire electricity shortage resulting from poor government planning — will make it even harder to deliver.After several years of growth of about 5 percent, the International Monetary Fund predicts growth this year for South Africa at just 3.8 percent, and cautions even that may be too optimistic.

The "better life for all" the African National Congress promised during the campaign for South Africa's first all-race election 14 years ago was the same promise that capitalism all over the world promises in its attempts to delude workers - a promise rarely fulfilled and invariably broken .

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