Poor lament betrayal of Mandela's great vision

By Kim Sengupta in Tembisa

Living conditions in many poor, crowded townships are a far cry from the sumptuous homes in grand suburbs. Photo / AP
Living conditions in many poor, crowded townships are a far cry from the sumptuous homes in grand suburbs. Photo / AP

"They have turned Soweto into a Disneyland for Mandela," says Andile Bongani, waving his hands in derision outside his home in another, lesser known, South African township.

"They have tried to make Madiba like Elvis Presley. It has become a tourist site. Now with the death so many foreigners will be going there, then they will say they have seen the real South Africa."

Like the overwhelming majority of his fellow citizens he was devoted to the man who delivered them from the poisonous bonds of apartheid and kept a fragile state united under difficult circumstances. But, also like many, Bongani feels the memory of their saviour is being used by current political leaders to hide their betrayal of his legacy.

The 62-year-old carpenter, who has not had regular employment for seven years, is standing in front of his home, in an area known as "Winnie Mandela's Shacks" in Tembisa, a place very far from the sumptuous grandeur that has been on display as world leaders came to honour Mandela.

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The land in which this desperately poor community scratch out a living was unused and was taken over with the encouragement of Mandela's still powerful former wife who had projected herself as the champion of the dispossessed.

Her people subsequently declared that development would come and living standards would be greatly improved. That did not take place and neither did promises from Winnie.

Soweto, on the other hand, does show signs of improvement. It has undoubtedly benefited from the association with Mandela, who lived there before his long years of imprisonment in Robben Island. Among other projects illustrating the link, there is the Mandela Museum managed by the Soweto Heritage Trust.

The township's international profile was also raised as the violent battleground between the white racist state and those protesting against it, giving it a high status in the struggle against apartheid.

Places like Tembisa, which is Zulu for "there is hope", have not benefited the same munificence. There is a busy shopping centre, but also densely packed poverty.

"The situation in other townships is far worse, there is nothing like this place in Soweto. We wish the people of Soweto well, but a lot of people here also suffered then [under the apartheid regime].

"The important people from abroad who are coming should visit us as well," says Bongani as he shows the home he and his wife share with their three youngest children - a room of peeling plaster with a floor of beaten earth separated by tattered curtains into a bed-dining area, kitchen and toilet with intermittent water and electricity supply.

Bongani's younger brother Jonah has found clerical work in Johannesburg, but complained of low wages and apprehension he may be made redundant: "The politicians keep saying how our economy is one of the strongest in Africa. They and the big businessmen live in palaces. The rest of us don't see all this wealth, we have to keep fighting to eat. I am sure Madiba wouldn't have wanted this to continue."

Just a short drive from Mandela's Johannesburg home in the highly affluent suburb of Houghton are roads strewn with rubbish and people sleeping in the open. Groups of young men hang around, and there are warnings from other residents about crime in these districts.

In Newtown, on a stretch of pavement between a mosque and an evangelical church, prostitutes sit on chairs on the pavement, listlessly seeking business. Across the road are posters for the Government's campaign to control the rising tide of Aids.

There are beggars, mostly blacks from Zimbabwe, Somalia and Nigeria.

There have been ferocious outbreaks of violence against the outsiders in the past, with 60 killed and thousands driven off in 2008. Around 140 foreigners were killed last year, according to the Africa Centre for Migrants and Society.

The migrants, too, mourn the death of Nelson Mandela, Zimbabwean Patrick Nandoro stresses: "He was hero to all of Africa and the rest of the world. His stand against apartheid moved people in Africa to get independence from our own white masters.

"I don't think Mandela knew about the full extent of the bad treatment we are getting here. He would have been sad if he had known, I am sure."

- Independent

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