Not yet uhuru, so keep

Doreen Zimbizi

Doreen Zimbizi

The reality in South Africa today is that the majority of ordinary people are poor. They are unemployed. They want solutions to poverty, Aids, crime and poor service delivery.

Statistics show 57percent of the 42million people in this country live below the poverty line. The experts have all that worked out.

But then, I am no expert. I will tell you what I know.

I grew up poor. Deep in rural Zimbabwe in the 1970s. Millions of other Zimbabwean children grew up in poverty. But we didn't know we were poor. Because everyone around us was in the same boat.

But that poverty was different. We had at least two square meals a day. We went to school, barefooted, but there. We did get an education, under trees, in leaking classrooms and we walked 20km a day to school. We turned out OK.

Like I said earlier, that was the norm. That's what everyone did. And because we didn't know that there was something better out there - a better life if you will - no one complained.

There was neither running water, nor electricity, nor tarred roads nor supermarkets.

At high school in Harare, for the first time, I tasted the better life. My uncle's four-roomed house, complete with electricity and running water, was a big change.

But an even bigger culture shock happened when I arrived in Johannesburg in 1994. Everything was bigger and brighter. But the townships were not that much different from the ones back home.

It's a fact that South Africa, being the biggest and most developed economy on the continent, attracts all of us here. It's a fact that our arrival and that of locals fleeing rural poverty in search of a better life puts a strain on services in towns and cities. It's also a fact that over the years, the influx has grown yearly, exerting even more pressure on services that have not kept up with demand.

Inadequate housing has led to the springing up of informal settlements that have brought with them new challenges.

Apart from being poorly built, most areas are overcrowded with very little or no amenities.

The things that you and I take for granted - more space, running water, electricity, clinics, tarred roads, refuse collection - in fact, all essential services that say we are a civilised lot - are still a pipe dream to others.

The reality of poverty is stark. It hits you in the face as soon as you land at Cape Town International for instance. The Crossroads informal settlement along the N2 as you drive into the city is one example. So are the Joe Slovo, Chris Hani and Winnie Mandela tin shacks.

If you pass through this country's major airports in transit, you will never know all the things that make up the daily grind for more than half the population.

I have been here long enough to take note. To see for myself what the government and NGOs are doing to alleviate the suffering. I know a lot is being done. I acknowledge the government, through a number of initiatives such as the poverty relief programme, the Letsema and social grants, has gone a long way in helping those in need.

Last week I came face to face with one poor woman's reality. Nobuhle Ndlebe, my host, lives in an informal settlement on the East Rand. As we drove into the area, I was stuck by the dirt piling up on every empty space. Stagnant water. Buzzing flies. Open rubbish dumps. No street lighting. The houses shoulder-to-shoulder. No privacy and little, if any, dignity.

This place is packed. The water is from a communal tap. I don't remember seeing a proper toilet.

This is the reality of South Africa's poor. Waiting and hoping that their lives will be better.


While it's not yet total uhuru for most black people , the dream should be kept alive.