The new ANC-led government of South Africa is finding it extremely hard to live up to the promises they preached to their constituency since the dawn of a democratic era. As ANC leader and minister of transport in the new government, Mac Maharaj puts it: "We thought it was tough during the days of the toyi-toyi and the fight against the apartheid system; now that we are in control, we find the going very tough and challenging."
During the period leading up to the first democratic elections in South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC) campaigned on a ticket that if they came to power, their priority would be to tackle the issue of providing basic needs like education, housing, health and employment to the millions of South Africans that have been denied these because of the policy of apartheid. To this end they released a document that contained a policy framework referred to as the Reconstruction and Development Programme, commonly known as the RDP, which states that it seeks to mobilise all the people and the country's resources towards the final eradication of apartheid and the building of a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist future.
The conclusion to the introductory chapter of the RDP document states that the following were the most commonly asked questions by the people leading up to the elections:
It states that the RDP attempts to provide achievable, realistic and clear programmes to answer these questions. It is from this premise that South Arica moved into a new era and it is now history that the ANC won the elections and that Nelson Mandela has become the first president of a democratic South Africa.
Since then the RDP has become the official government policy on reconstruction and development and even the Nationalist Party that was responsible for the formulation, implementation and maintenance of the apartheid system over the years has accepted and endorsed the RDP in the Government of National Unity (GNU).
While parliamentary and other parties are busy debating the cost and logistics of implementing the RDP, the common people at have not been that static. There are signs that patience and tolerance of the people is wearing off as industry is undergoing a period of strikes declared by labour unions on pay disputes. Since the elections there has been more than 30 labour strikes affecting almost every industry. Although most are directed towards the private sector, it is still a clear indication of a society that is becoming increasingly frustrated with waiting for the "new deal". It took an intervention by President Mandela when he personally addressed the workers at a conference of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) on caution against strikes. His message about the reality of unemployment, which most strikes lead to, seems to have hit a sober note.
The disparity of salaries between black and white is still a reality in both the private and public sector and there seems to be no intention of the government addressing that at this moment. Some of the labour disputes have been directed towards the government itself by its own allies. A labour union representing workers in the health and education sectors, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) which in the past has been responsible for crippling the health services during the apartheid era, has written an open letter to the government threatening massive strike action if its demands are not addressed. It is important to note that NEHAWU is a member of COSATU, itself a major shareholder in the new government as part of the tripartite alliance of the ANC, itself and the South African Communist Party (SACP). All three organisations participated in the elections under the banner of the ANC and they are all represented in the new government. NEHAWU itself, has some of its former leaders in key leadership positions in the new government.
Recently there has been disputes within the new South African National Defence Force (SANDF) where former members of the ANC's army, Umkhonto WeSizwe (MK) deserted the army just a few months after they were "integrated" into it. They claim that nothing much has changed within the army which has been the stronghold of the former apartheid regime. They claim that attitudes and treatment towards them by the army leaders is discriminative, resulting in their massive walkout. The government, under pressure to display a measure of control, was extremely harsh in dealing with the army deserters, resulting in those who did not return to base at the stipulated time being dismissed. The dismissed soldiers have now announced that they are considering an option of declaring an "armed struggle" against the government until it is ready to address their grievances.
The biggest problem for the ANC-led government is that it inherited a very discredited system from the old regime and it is proving very hard to dismantle or restructure that; and conversely, if that is happening, then it is proving to be an extremely tedious exercise. At times it seems that the new administration is just too happy to adopt the lavish lifestyles of the previous regime. Recently the Nobel Peace prize laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was involved in the criticism of the new administration for jumping onto the "gravy train" with the parliamentary and ministerial salaries thought to be extremely high. Criticism of the high salaries also came from some of the parliamentarians belonging to the ANC and the Communist Party. After initially dismissing these criticisms, President Mandela finally announced a salary cut for both himself and his two deputies, and for the ministers in his cabinet.
Amalgamating the previous 13 or so administrations (of the 10 former homelands, the former central government, and also the two administrations for the so-called Coloureds and people of Indian origin) is showing to be a very hard task and in fact, in practise, most of these structures are still in existence. Only the political systems and the leaders thereof have disappeared. Civil servants who in the past belonged to these administrations are suddenly the burden of the new government and a lot of tension has arisen in this area where a disparity in salaries exist between the employees of these former administrations or "governments" as they were called. Recently civil servants of the former homeland of Bophuthatswana, who were demonstrating for salary increases to match those of their South African counterparts, indicated their frustration in dealing with the new administration by stating that they would "dispose" of the ANC government in the same way they claimed to have disposed of their former homeland leader.
Housing is proving to be a major problem for the new government. Not only is there an acute shortage of available land for sustainable living but for housing as well. There has been a dramatic increase in the rate of migration of people from the rural areas to the cities in search of jobs and better living conditions. The result thereof is an acute shortage of housing where people have resorted to the erection of informal settlements referred to as "squatter camps". These have dramatically sprung up in areas surrounding big cities where people live without water and proper sanitation. The problem is that nothing much has changed as far as the situation where 13% of the land is occupied by 87% of the population (black) and 87% of the land is in the hands of 13% of the population (white). Most of this privately owned land is not utilised. Plans to buy this land for redistribution are not materialising and a new trend is developing where squatters move into these areas to erect their informal houses. This results in their eviction by the owners who have the legal right to do so and recently in Johannesburg there was a forced eviction of squatters by the police from such land which resulted in a lot of anger towards the government by both the squatters and the majority of the population. The argument is that it seems nothing much has changed as far as forced removals and police brutality is concerned because these people were forcefully uprooted and their belongings dumped at the municipal offices, much in the same way as it used to happen in the past. Another argument is that if the government is going to allow people to be uprooted then it must provide alternative land for them. The promised land reforms seem to take forever to implement, besides the establishment of the land claims court, nothing much has been done as far as land re-distribution is concerned.
A similar situation is developing within the cities as well. Again in Johannesburg an organisation calling itself the Johannesburg Tenants Association (JOTA) that claims to represent tenants in the inner city, has launched a campaign to occupy empty buildings in the city for its members to live in "until the authorities provide alternative accommodation" for them. Its members identify and attepmt to occupy empty buildings, which leads to confrontation with the police and authorities.
The government has promised to build houses for the people but this programme is taking forever to implement. The result is the mounting anger and frustration and people deciding to take matters into their own hands.
The crisis in education continues. The restructuring thereof is also taking forever. In the meantime, there is growing tension at all levels, most of it inter-racial. Primary and secondary schools that are in formerly white areas are flooded with applications from black scholars but there has been widespread reports that most applicants are turned away on the premise that they do not reside in the area where the school is situated. This seems to be a new unwritten law to prevent black children to attend the same schools as their white counterparts. The Black Consciousness-linked secondary school students'organisation, the Azanian Students' Movement (AZASM), has announced a campaign to chase all white teachers out of black schools because there is a high unemployment rate for black teachers. At university level the South African Students Congress (SASC0), has launched a very spirited campaign to transform the formerly white universities into what they call people's universities which would have enrolments reflecting the demographics of the country's population. These campaigns border on the use of tactics that embarass both the university authorities and the government.
In summary, because the government is taking so long to restructure so many areas which affect the daily lives of the people at the grassroots level, organisations representing the people have taken to the streets, or have embarked on campaigns to put pressure on the authorities to change the status quo of South Africa because to the world out there, South Africa is supposed to be a changed country, but the reality is that nothing much has changed since Nelson Mandela became president. It is understandable that it will not, and cannot change overnight, but there should be signs that things are changing, or the government should be showing some results to indicate progress, but none of that is coming through, hence the agitation and rumblings from the ground.
Contact address of the author:
PO Box 1865