Cape Town, South Africa – Eighteen years after Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa – an election covered around the world for its tangible evidence of the end of the heinous rule of Apartheid – and the young people of this beautiful country are boiling over to the point of a potential uprising because progress in many areas, especially housing, has been little over that time.
The history of protests by black South Africans willing to die for what they believe in is long and sad. And yet, the African National Congress Youth League made a point of protesting this week and rattling off a list of demands at the start of the conference, Strategies to Overcome Poverty and Inequality: Towards Carnegie III, in Cape Town.
The ANC Youth League said it is frustrated with the meager, shoe-boxed sized homes the government provided families in the city’s suburbs. In some areas, called townships, families still live in houses made of tin with little electricity or running water. The “houses” are about five feet apart and a particularly strong wind would challenge their stability. The townships make America’s so-called ghettos look like ornate bed and breakfasts or chalets.
It is particularly disturbing when contrasted with the majestic, breath-taking beauty of the coastal city, and primarily because only the black South Africans life in such inhumane strife.
After 18 years, the young people have had enough. They said in their list of demands that they want land owned by private individuals and companies in suburban areas like Constantia and Rondebosch, near Cape Town, made available to house the province’s poor, which makes up about 16 per cent of the population.
Their list of demands was delivered to the Western Cape government after a protest at the Cape Town airport. Yes, they are serious.
“There is a lot of land that’s available around the city’s suburbs,” Khaya Yozi, the league’s dullah Omar region chairman, said. “We don’t need (government) houses any more. We demand houses with no less than five rooms per family.”
Houses provided by the South African government for the poor are tiny, one-room units that are clustered together in neighborhoods with historical high crime and drugs rates.
The young people of South Africa are taking a stand and there is a feeling in the air that no commitment to improvements by government — and soon — could result in a bloody battle.
Premier Helen Zillle was not happy with the ANC Youth League’s position: “The undemocratic, militaristic language used by various speakers during the picket shows that the ANCYL has no clue what constitutional democracy is about.”
In addition to the housing concerns, the league is protesting against the government’s proposed youth wage subsidy, poor service delivery and possible closure of 27 schools in the province, among other things.
The window to confront how the poor is treated will not last forever, according to Francis Wilson, the UCT acting Pro-Vice Chanellor said.
“Urgent action is needed to reverse the big ship of poverty,” Wilson said. “Nearly 20 years after democracy and we haven’t done a lot about either widespread poverty or deep inequality. Income inequality has got worse, not better. The debate in South Africa seems to revolve around who is going to be the next president and not the pressing issues facing the country.”
It is an urgent situation, heightened by bold talk from angry youths, especially males, who are tired of empty promises. Vice chancellor Dr. Max Price said “Arab Spring” uprisings could be the result of this tumult, and soon, if the crisis is not addressed.
“We have been working very hard to bring together academics from 19 universities around the country, who have submitted well over 300 papers,” Price said. “In addition, we have gone our of our way to draw in some very good (authorities) that are working at the coalface of education, rural development, health and a number of other sectors to share what they are doing.”
The hope is that some concrete resolutions can be made to appease the fiery young men, described as “a boiling cauldron” of discontent.” If not, the specter of a new set of violent uprisings will become another part of history South Africa would rather not write.