'People talk of a better life, but we have seen none'

Eating three meals a day is a treat the Khosephi family has not had in months, a continuous struggle they share with many destitute rural families in South Africa.

“I am trying my best to keep this family alive, but our problems are beyond our control,” said Novathile Khosephi, a mother four from Nenga village in the Eastern Cape.

The 46-year-old unemployed mother survives on less than R9 ($1) a day. She claims to have known poverty all her life; her parents and grandparents were no different.

“We were hoping that things will be better when Mandela came with democracy in 1994, but we are still trapped in grinding poverty,” said Khosephi.

Despite her dire circumstances, Khosephi is eager to cast her vote in Wednesday’s general elections, which the African National Congress is expected to win easily.

Her only source of income is a monthly R240 ($26) child support grant she receives from the government.

“The grant money does not take us far, it is does not even last for a week. I want to vote for a party that I feel will not let us down. I am still optimistic that things will change one day,” said Khosephi before picking up a 20-litre canister she uses for collecting water from a nearby stream.

The murky stream dries up in winter. It is the only source of water for both the villagers and domestic animals.

The 2008 annual report from the presidency indicated that 1,34-million households in the country still have no access to basic water services, although the number has been steadily falling since 1994.

“The only thing the government has done for us is build us pit toilets, but how can we make use of the toilet when we don’t eat,” Khosephi said sarcastically.

In Nenga, the majority of the villagers are unemployed. Some work at the nearby small holiday resort of Coffee Bay, but it does not provide enough jobs for the 15 000 population.

Many remote areas in South Africa are still waiting to see experience the social development that has taken place in most cities since apartheid ended 15 years ago.

According to Education and Training Unit, an anti-poverty group, about two-thirds of the country’s poor people live in rural areas, and most are black.

About 56% of black South Africans are poor, compared to about 36% of the coloured population, 15% of ethnic Indians and 7% of whites.

“The vicious cycle of poverty has led to children not wanting to get education. Someone must get us out of this situation. Our children can’t grow up in the same poor world like us and our forefathers,” Khosephi said.

“People talk of a better life, but we have seen none.”

According to the National Development Agency, the unemployment rate in the Eastern Cape is 55%.

The state funded agency has set a R13,4-million budget for some of the most impoverished districts, to help locals start small businesses.

“The money will be invested in community-based income generating projects, women and the youth are usually at the receiving end of poverty,” said Eurica Palmer, NDA provincial manager for the Eastern Cape.

But locals say not enough has been done.

In March the local chief invited the newly formed Congress of the People (Cope) to canvas votes in his area—part of the traditional heartland of the ANC.

It was for the first time that any party other than the ANC was given the chief’s blessings to come and campaign.

“I have seen the suffering of my people. Right now I am open to anything which can deliver services to us,” said chief Tshezi. - AFP

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