'only better life we see is on TV'

Pic. Bafana Mahlangu. © Sowetan.
Pic. Bafana Mahlangu. © Sowetan.

Sibongile Khumalo

Sibongile Khumalo

Campaign posters line the streets across South Africa for the general elections just a month away, but voters say enduring poverty and poor public services have left them disenchanted with politics.

Nowhere is that sentiment more pronounced than in Eastern Cape, one of the country's poorest provinces that Is the birthplace of former president Nelson Mandela.

The populous coastal province has helped to steer the ruling ANC to landslide victories since the first all-race elections in 1994 that brought Mandela to office after the end of apartheid.

Although the ANC is expected to win the April 22 polls, voters are questioning its track record in fighting poverty in a nation where 43 percent of the 48 million population live on less than two us dollars (about R20) a day.

Even with corruption charges hanging over ANC leader and presidential hopeful Jacob Zuma, analysts doubt the dissatisfaction will be strong enough to cost them the election.

The official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, is seen as a party for whites. The new ANC splinter group, Cope, is still cutting its teeth, and most smaller parties have little national presence.

In the town of Mthatha, gigantic billboards bearing Zuma's face tower above rickety mud huts and littered roads - promising a better life for all.

"No one cares about us, development has only happened in urban areas. We have been forgotten," said Maxhoba Lobe.

The majority of Eastern Cape's population lives in the countryside where they struggle against poverty, unemployment and non-existent sanitation.

In the seafront village of Mqanduli, 25km from Mthatha, residents share drinking water wells with donkeys and cattle.

There is no electricity and no roads. Their image of the rest of SA comes from TV sets powered by car batteries.

"We had been promised a better life but we only see it on TV. Urban areas such as Soweto are being developed," said Bongani Tofile, an unemployed youth.

Nor does he believe the Cope will end the plight of the poor any better than the ANC.

"They are part and parcel of the problems we see today," he said.

Cope's premier candidate for Eastern Cape, Wiseman Nkuhlu, told a group of about 150 supporters that the party would work hard to improve public services by fighting corruption and misuse of funds.

"Corruption is the biggest challenge in government. As Cope we will elect people with uncompromised integrity."

Nkuhlu was former president Thabo Mbeki's top economic adviser - which does little to combat the impression that the party is made up mainly of Mbeki loyalists disgruntled by his sacking last year.

"The ANC does not appreciate our loyalty... look around here, nothing at all has changed," Nosisa Nkomfe, 70, said after the rally.

But she also said: "I am not sure if can trust this new party."

But Mthatha's mayor Siyakholwa Mlamli says the ANC remains confident of victory. "We are proud of our 15 years in government and we are confident about the future," he says.

He blames the poor service delivery backlog on the former apartheid regime, which neglected development in black areas.

"It is unreasonable to expect the wrongs committed over 300 years of colonialism and segregation to be undone in 15 years," he says. - Sapa-AFP