22 April 2014

South Africa: Apartheid's Legacy Lingers On

Many black South Africans in the former homelands where they were confined during apartheid had hoped the advent of democracy 20 years ago would change their lives for the better. But most of them are still struggling.

When 74-year-old Dlingiziwe Ngubane was able to cast his vote for the first time 20 years ago - on April 27, 1994 - he had hoped his life would take a turn for the better. But he was utterly disappointed.

"We wanted to see changes in our lives. But we still don't have running water and electricity," he told DW in his remote village of Mtunzini in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, a half hour drive from the province's capital Pietermaritzburg.

Most of the 2,000 people here in Mtunzini, a village located in a beautiful valley surrounded by wattle trees, live in rondaval Zulu mud huts. People make a living as laborers on a nearby white-owned farm and by cultivating their own small fields. Some of the children have to walk four hours every day in order to attend higher primary and secondary schools. There is no running water, electricity or paved roads.

Deeply disappointed

Ngubane said he is also worried about ownership of the land his ancestors have been staying on for more than 200 years.

Despite his disappointment, he said he and his family would still go to the polls in May.

The residents of Mtunzini village still don't have running water and electricity

"My dream for the future is to see my children and grandchildren obtaining a decent education so that they can improve their lives and one day become nurses, teachers and doctors," he said. "I don't want them to keep working as servants to other people, like we are."

Apartheid's legacy

Siyabonga Sithole is a community activist who has been trying to help the villagers of Mtunzini. He works for the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA) to promote the rights of farming communities who have been discriminated against and marginalized during the apartheid years.

Activist Sithole says South Africa's rural people have been forgotten

"It's the legacy of apartheid because these people have been working for landowners and didn't get paid for it," he said.

"They used to get rights to maybe crop or keep livestock on their land in return for their labor. When you look at the households or the environment here you'll see they are struggling." Rural communities are the forgotten people of South Africa, he added.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the former leader of the old KwaZulu homeland who now heads Zulu opposition Inkatha Freedom Party, acknowledges that some communities in rural areas have yet to reach full freedom. He says he supports the expropriation of land to help black farming communities better their lives. "Some political parties are calling for expropriation of land without compensation, but my party believes that land could be re-distributed through fair compensation," he said.

Corruption and inefficiency

According to Buthelezi, much of the neglect of the rural communities was caused by government corruption. "I believe that if we root out corruption we will be able to deliver such essentials as electricity, running water, proper roads, schools and clinics to the people in rural areas."

That view is echoed by prominent academic and author Paulus Zulu, a professor at Durban's University of Kwa-Zulu-Natal. He also points to the lack of efficiency in government departments to provide services to rural communities.

Village elder Ngubane and his neighbors hope to see their situation improve soon

"If we stamp out corruption and inefficiency and improve the quality of education, we would make life better for most people," he said. "We are one of the richest countries in the world and there's no excuse that we cannot deliver essential services to many people in rural communities."

The premier of KwaZulu-Natal province, Senzo Mchunu, insists that the government has done a lot to improve people's lives, but admits there was still a long way to go.

"We are mindful and very sensitive of the gap that we have to narrow between urban and rural areas which is a fault line of apartheid," he said.

The government was trying its best to improve infrastructure, but "we cannot fulfil everyone's dreams in just 20 years."

Meanwhile, the villagers of Mtunzini hope that change is about to come so they too are able to be part of a modern South Africa.

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