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World

Job And Housing Shortages Prompt South Africans To Abandon The ANC

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In South Africa, protesters have been clashing with police in major cities. The demonstrators are angry over the lack of jobs and the lack of housing. When the ruling African National Congress won power in 1994, it promised a free house for anyone who needed one. But as Peter Granitz reports from the capital, Pretoria, millions of people are still waiting for those homes.

PETER GRANITZ, BYLINE: A few men waste away the hot afternoon sun in an informal street-side bar, nothing more than a bench covered by a few sheets of corrugated tin. This is Mamelodi, a township east of Pretoria. It's where black people were forced to live under the segregation policies of apartheid. The roads are rutted. The potholes are deep enough to swallow small cars.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORNS HONKING)

GRANITZ: It's where Constance Mhlongo has lived since 1993 - since she left her rural home village. Twenty-four years later, she still doesn't have steady work. She worked just nine days the previous month at a nursing home.

CONSTANCE MHLONGO: This month I worked seven days. They said they will call me again next week, so I'm going to work two days.

GRANITZ: With her limited income, Mhlongo qualifies for a free home. She's been waiting for it for 13 years. But Mhlongo says she visited the local housing office last year four times. Every time, she says, she hears a different story. Most recently...

MHLONGO: Don't come again here. You don't get house. They have already sold it.

GRANITZ: They've already sold it, meaning local housing officials sold her free home to the highest bidder. The corruption has forced Mhlongo to do something she thought she never would, abandon the ANC, the liberation movement-turned-political party that brought freedom to black South Africans. She voted for the Democratic Alliance.

MHLONGO: That's why I voted DA - because I'm angry.

GRANITZ: The Democratic Alliance is the ascending opposition party. With promises of effective and transparent government, the DA won Pretoria, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay in local government elections last year. Those elections were the worst setback for the ANC yet. When the ANC took power after the first all-race elections in 1994, it set about dismantling the legacies of apartheid. It passed massive social legislation, called the Reconstruction and Development Programme. The RDP, as it's known, was designed to lift the lives of black South Africans who could not own property under apartheid. The free housing program is part of it.

WILLIAM COBBETT: By international standards, it would tick the box as a successful government program.

GRANITZ: Billy Cobbett crafted the housing program as director general of the then-Department of Housing. He says the government transferred a million homes within six years of the program's creation. Those homes are typically three or four rooms, made out of cinderblocks and, by law, must have electricity, water and privacy. The progress has stalled. Analysts assume more than 2 million people are still waiting for their homes. Nobody from the Department of Human Settlements would speak with NPR or confirm the size of the backlog. Political analyst Ralph Mathekga has researched housing markets and the RDP program. He says the backlog continues to grow, and the national government has no plan to address it.

RALPH MATHEKGA: They will tell you that, first of all, there just aren't enough houses for everyone. But the next thing they're going to complain about is lack of fairness when it comes to who gets to receive the house.

GRANITZ: Mathekga says the legacy of the RDP housing program is that of unfulfilled promises made by the ANC.

MATHEKGA: It is because of the local political leadership. Usually, they will take favors and bribes so that they can move people up the list.

GRANITZ: Back in Mamelodi, we meet in Constance Mhlongo's corrugated tin shack. It's long, low and narrow. There's a bed at one end, which she shares with her daughter and two grandchildren when they visit. We sit in the middle on creaking chairs in a makeshift kitchen. There's no running water inside, but there is a cellphone charging next to a working refrigerator.

MHLONGO: It's underground. Electricity is nyoka-nyoka.

GRANITZ: Nyoka-nyoka, snake-snake in Tsonga, is what people call the illegal, dangerous connections of electrical wires from homes to the shacks. A new home, Mhlongo says, would be safer - sanctioned electricity, stronger locks and safe windows. She'd run a small shop out of it, but she's losing hope she'll ever move in.

For NPR News, I'm Peter Granitz in Pretoria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.