Unity's a separate issue on Human Rights Day
As President Jacob Zuma delivers his keynote address inside Kliptown Hall, Soweto—in front of roughly a hundred supporters and another 500 watching on big screen televisions outside—an elderly man is ejected from the entrance by security.
“I took bullets in the struggle and this is how you treat me?” an enraged John Mashwane shouts at security. “You should be ashamed!”
They have prevented his voice from being heard.
“I brought him this letter explaining my situation, but he won’t get it. They won’t let me give it to him,” says Mashwane.
As he calms down, Mashwane explains what was in the message he was hoping to have delivered to the president.
‘I’m not young anymore’
“I’ve been living here in a shack for 57 years. Zuma and these guys came here to talk, I know that, but what about doing something about housing,” Mashwane says, clutching his letter addressed to “Umsholozi”.
“I’m 73 years old now. I’m not young anymore—I need a house,” Mashwane says, dejectedly.
Inside, Zuma is lauding the government’s achievements in providing housing and basic services. He says government has delivered 2.8m houses and ensured 87% rural households have water and that 75% also have access to sanitation.
“We have done a lot but have not reached every citizen. We need to grow the economy and improve the standard of life in South Africa.”
He calls on all South Africans to help speed up delivery by uniting in support of the government.
‘We must roll up our sleeves’
“We’ve done well in a short space of time,” the president says. “But many more still live in hardship due to decades of neglect. Every one of us needs to roll up our sleeves and get down to work.”
The president says he will personally take this message to all three spheres of government.
“I will visit mayors, premiers and ministers— we are serious about getting the country working,” he promises.
But for many who have come to hear Zuma speak, it’s a message they’ve grown tired of hearing. For them, action speaks louder than words.
“We were told there would be a walkabout so that he can see how we live—but nothing,” complains Sipho Jantshi of the Kliptown Concerned Residents. “It’s heart-breaking! We’ve voted for them since 1994 but they’ve forgotten us. At election time he comes and portrays himself as a man of the people but where is he today?”
‘We only want to be heard’
Jantshi says most of people living around Kliptown have not been helped by the government in any way.
“We may be celebrating Human Rights Day but as we speak the rights of people in Kliptown are being violated,” he says. “Most don’t have adequate housing, water or electricity. This is not political, and we are not asking for much—we only want to be heard.”
Jantshi is not alone in feeling abandoned by the government. Lizzy Sithole says she supports the the ANC, “but the ANC does not support us”.
“They must change this attitude towards their people,” she says. “When they see us, they talk nicely ... but when they leave it’s nothing, even though we live like hobos.”
Not everyone attending the president’s address has an axe to grind.
‘We will get there together’
Simphiwe Gwija tells the M&G that Zuma’s speech has united South Africans: “It’s time we worked together as a team to build a better future.”
He believes the government is doing its best to address the inequalities it inherited when it came to power in 1994.
“We can’t transform the country in 15 years,” Gwija says. “We need time and we will get there together.”
As festivities in the Kliptown hall draw to a close, it is announced that lunch will be served.
The crowd swamps the entrance to the hall, but are held back by security.
“Please sit down, the lunch is for our dignitaries,” an anonymous voice rumbles over the speakers as the screens of the big screen turn to snow.
The crowds return to their seats, disappointed.
“They say our lunch is coming, but when? It’s really unfair,” Phyllis Nkomo says, watching glumly as the invited guests make their way ... together ... to their dining tables.