/ 20 August 2009

SA’s poor fed up with waiting for houses, services

The government plans new laws to improve the lives of the poor, but for squatter Ntombi Khumalo, who has moved from shack to shack over the past decade, this may already be too late.

Khumalo lives in Diepsloot, the squatter settlement north of Johannesburg where there is little electricity, hundreds of residents share one water tap and communal toilets overflow.

”The sewage is flowing on to the streets where the children are playing. We are just pleading with the government to provide us proper housing to improve our lives,” she said.

Protests over basic services flared in several squatter settlements and impoverished townships across South Africa last month, increasing pressure on President Jacob Zuma to meet April election promises to help millions of South Africans still living in poverty 15 years after the end of apartheid.

Zuma has said the government has fallen short in meeting South Africans’ demands for better basic services like water, electricity, healthcare and education.

”While the reasons for the protests differ, they all point to the shortcomings in the way government has related to the people, whether at local, provincial or national level,” Zuma said earlier this month.

He has made surprise visits to township hot spots and also met leaders of the country’s nine provinces. The government plans to present draft laws to the Cabinet next week aimed at accelerating the provision of basic services.

Analysts say Zuma’s government will find it difficult to meet the raised expectations of the poor while the country is in its first recession in 17 years.

For people like Ntombi Khumalo, the improvement of squatter settlements is essential.

”People don’t want to move from place to place. They would rather have the area fixed so we can live in a better environment.”

She has moved three times in the past 10 years in search of a better life but still hasn’t found it in Diepsloot, where some children of school-going age play in squalor because their unemployed parents cannot afford school fees.

”At least if the government moves us to an area which has water and electricity and basic services it would be better. We can build our own shack there,” said Josias Mokete, an unemployed father of three who ekes out a living doing odd jobs.

”I can grow vegetables to feed my family. I am not expecting to get everything for free,” Mokete said.

Political analyst Siphamandla Zondi of the Institute for Global Dialogue said although the protests were indicative of the expectations of the poor and the ANC-led government’s failure to deliver, it is also a result of the global economic crisis.

Zondi said South Africans see Zuma as a catalyst for change.

”He has to try to match the expectation with the capacity to deliver. If that cannot be matched, then he has to come out and tell people to moderate their expectations”. — Reuters