DURBAN — It is undisputed that South Africa is currently the continent’s biggest economic powerhouse. Its growth trajectory rose with the end of apartheid in 1994 and accelerated exponentially over the past 10 years.
But 19 years since democratic rule, it seems the Rainbow Nation’s economy left behind some valuable cargo back in 1994 — the people.
With 60 percent of South Africa’s 52 million people classified as poor, the country’s first economic freedom fighters must be turning in their graves.
And if they were still alive today, the 20th Century civil rights campaigner, Mahatma Gandhi, would have been the most disappointed especially having led South Africa’s first fight against socio-economic injustices before later leading his country, India, to independence in 1947.“Economics that hurt the moral well-being of an individual or a nation are immoral and therefore sinful. The economics that permit one country to prey upon another are immoral,” said Gandhi in one of his famous sayings.
The Rainbow Nation today can best be described as a pale shadow of what Gandhi, Steve Biko, Oliver Tambo, Joe Slovo and countless others must have dreamt of.
The civil disobedience through non-violence that Gandhi believed in, for instance, is now an ideology that is making no sense to a people who are fast running out of patience.
As tempers boil over poor service, increasing poverty and joblessness, those left behind by the economic gravy train are seething with anger.
“Violence is being caused by dissatisfaction over many issues especially of water and sanitation,” said Madudu Khumalo from North Durban’s rundown Inanda Township from where Gandhi lived and carried out his struggle against apartheid.
“People are saying they are tired of asking for these things by resorting to this kind of violence. Surprisingly our constitution talks about equality but you will realise that blacks are still not considered as having the right to get the same good service as the white people,” Khumalo added.
Densely populated Inanda, where Blair toilets are commonplace and water is rationed, actually compares favourably when pitted against Cato Manor, a jungle of tin and cardboard box hovels on the fringes of Durban central business district.
Epworth, south east of Harare, is heaven on earth compared to this hell on earth where, while touring the area, we were told it was unsafe for anyone who does not belong there to venture on foot.
Out of Durban’s 3,5 million people more than 100 000 live in Cato Manor, South Africa’s largest post-apartheid inner-city settlement that first surfaced in the mid 1960 but later dismantled only to resurface again in the 1980s.
Given its colonial background, Cato Manor is an area that suffered most under apartheid policies but the new South Africa seems to be failing to redress past injustices and empower the majority black people.
To the immigrants from all over the Southern African Development Community region, Cato Manor “shackland” has thus degenerated into a highly-charged and active violence keg that occasionally explodes sometimes leading to xenophobic attacks that are now a chronic illness in the Rainbow Nation.
Living in such an overpowering density of poverty, dehumanising conditions and rough existence, it becomes understandable why one turns violent.
Faith Manzi (45), who recently fled Cato Manor had this to say of the area: “Service protests in Cato Manor have become more violent as residents have become more desperate. Corruption is also causing violence when the community reacts to councillors who are busy enriching themselves when allocating stands.”
Further south of Cato Manor, in South Durban, where since 1966 Indian and coloured communities have lived after being uprooted from Cato Manor, one comes across yet another chilling reality of a highly skewed socio-economic arrangement.
Out of South Durban’s 285 000 people just over 10 000 people are employed in the heavy industry and as the companies fast upgrade machinery the number of employed people is declining fast through retrenchments.
Living in the neighbourhood of multi-billion dollar transnational company premises that include two massive petro-chemical factories and two paper mills, the South Durban community is still feeling the effects of inequality and economic injustices of the country’s apartheid era.
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