South Africa has some good and bad gains

SIYAVUYA KHAYA AND THULANI MAGAZI

As South Africans celebrated Freedom Day yesterday, Wednesday April 27, people expressed mixed feelings about the strides made since the first democratic elections some 22 years ago.

The 1994 elections brought to an end years of apartheid and legislated segregation and oppression of black people.

The dawn of democracy raised a lot of expectations among black people who could for the first time have their say on the running of the country, with promises of jobs, quality education for all, housing opportunities and prosperity in the community.

Despite all those promises and expectations, challenges still remain.

Vukani spoke to some prominent individuals in Site C to get a sense of where we are, as a nation, after 22 years of freedom and where we are going.

Site C is Khayelitsha’s oldest neighbourhood, but is the least developed area. In 1985 the first group of people moved into the area from Crossroads. For the first few years they lived in tents, with no infrastructure. A few years later things began to change, with some people moving to Site B.

Later, the more “upmarket” Ilitha Park and other areas were developed.

Most recently people moved to an open field closer to Baden Powell Drive, which is now known as Enkanini. With a population of just less than a million, Khayelitsha is now one of South Africa’s biggest townships. Like many other areas, it suffers a series of glarring challenges ranging from crime to unemployment. And these challenges are more severe in Site C, according to some local residents.

Respected community leader Reverend Raymond Qhagana said the country’s democracy was working, but it needed to be “beefed up a little”. Asked to rate government’s success, he gave them a 50 percent score, saying government performance could only be improved when those in power were accountable to the people.

He challenged the country’s leadership and government officials to move into the communities to familiarise themselves with some challenges people faced. Having moved from Hout Bay, under forced removals in 1983, Reverend Qhagana finally settled in Site C, in 1985, after a brief stay in Crossroads.

From being a peaceful neighbhourhood, where they left their belongings in tents, he has seen Site C change to a crime ridden area.

“We are free, but not free. We would not be scared to walk in the night if we were free. People are now being attacked and killed for their guns,” he said.

“That is where our government is lacking. Police officers and security guards are not safe. Health is another critical area.”

Mr Qhagana said most state hospitals battled with medication for patients. He said the hospitals were also overcrowded, and people had to wake up early to receive any form of treatment. But he commended the government for opening the doors of learning which had previously been closed to black people.

He also criticised the manner in which government treated churches, saying that church leaders played a vital role in the fight for freedom, yet their cries for land to build churches fell on deaf ears.

Despite some criticism against the government, he urged South Africans to continue voting. “People need to identify an organisation that is going to address their needs, not someone who is going to oppress them,” he said.

Another Site C resident, Johnson Xokolo, said a lot was yet to be done, noting that the country still grappled with a high unemployment rate, particularly among the youth. He said it broke his heart to see scores of young people roaming the streets because they did not have jobs.

He also complained that Site C had no police station or hospital and said he believed the area had one of the highest crime rates.

He believed that the commemoration of Freedom Day needed to address the issues of service delivery, particularly in the townships and in the Eastern Cape.

He accused government of dragging its feet in providing adequate development and services. “In my birth place of Qumbu, we don’t have tarred roads and we are forced to hire cars to send someone who is sick to the hospital as ambulances are not able to get into the villages because of the gravel roads. People are still forced to walk long distances to fetch water as there are no taps and some areas don’t have electricity,” he said.

“Many people have left the Eastern Cape because there are no job opportunities.”

Mr Xokolo said there were no libraries and clinics in the rural areas. “If the government wants us to really celebrate freedom, it needs to fire people that are involved in corruption because they are the ones who are derailing the processes of providing service delivery to the people, “ he said.

Mr Xokolo said the country has not yet really attained its freedom because one of the fundamental aims of fighting for freedom was to be able to send children to institutions of higher learning to study whatever they wanted, but due to financial constraints, education was not accessible to all. He added that under the apartheid regime, black people were only allowed to study nursing and teaching but if you wanted to study something else, there were huge hurdles to overcome.

He emphasised that South Africa has one of the most progressive Constitution in the world, which ensured that the rights of people were not undermined and that while the apartheid government had treated black people “like dogs”, the current dispensation placed a high value on human rights.

Touching on the law and access to justice, Mr Xokolo said many people cannot afford expensive lawyers, which infringed upon their rights.

He called on the younger generation to cherish the freedom they enjoy today and to use their right to vote because many people had sacrificed their lives for them to live freely.