I want to take you on a journey this week. A journey into a large community in the northern parts of Johannesburg, South Africa, called Diepsloot. This place is a reflection of South Africa, the old and the new. It is a reflection of the living conditions of the majority of South Africans who live in third world squalor while an elite minority enjoy comfortable, first-world living conditions. It presents a microcosmic view of all that is wrong and pitiful about South Africa, old and new. It gives first hand evidence of the oft stated claim that very little has changed in the new South Africa for the majority. It reveals quite plainly the utter uselessness and insignificance of democracy and elections when the majority of the voters have nothing to gain from the outcome, which is the case in contemporary South Africa. It is election season in South Africa, local government elections are upon us. This is a time when politicians who have been ignoring the majority of citizens for the better part of their term of office suddenly discover the importance of reconnecting with the people and are seen mixing with the community, promising much in order to guarantee another term in office. This is what is happening in Diepsloot at present. Diepsloot is an informal settlement in northern Johannesburg, separated by a massive fence and a big sewage pipe from one of the wealthiest golfing estates in South Africa, Dainfern Ridge. It is a reflection of the South Africa we live in. Whilst the houses on the golfing estate in Dainfern are huge and spacious, the one-roomed “RDP” houses and shacks in Diepsloot are small and over-crowded. Whilst the rich who live in Dainfern, just a five minute distance away drive to work in expensive, luxury cars that are almost always only inhabited by one person, the poor who live in Diepsloot have to wake up early every day, walk to the “taxi rank” and queue in order to be driven to work in over-crowded minibus taxis by rude, unruly and disrespectful taxi drivers. In Diepsloot there are over a million people from all over South Africa and Africa, living in abject poverty. In Dainfern there are possibly, at most a few hundred people living in first-world luxury and comfort, separated from the poor by a fence and a sewage pipe. In Diepsloot the lights go out all the time in the evenings, whilst just across the fence you can see Dainfern glowing with light. In Diepsloot the people often go without running water or electricity for periods of up to a week at times whilst the spacious golfing estate next door is watered by massive pumps and the rich enjoy Eskom’s finest service. There are almost no street lights in Diepsloot so it is completely dark at night, whilst Dainfern is always lit up. The statisticians tell us that the known rate of HIV/AIDS in Diepsloot is three out of five and it is almost certainly higher than that in reality. On any given day you can drive around Diepsloot and you’ll find literally hundreds of thousands of young people sitting around with nothing to do. They are uneducated, most are illiterate, “unskilled” and unemployed (unemployable according to some economists). Over seventy percent of this Diepsloot population is made up of young people, mostly under twenty five years of age. Whilst the rich in Dainfern are completely walled in and have twenty four hour security which protects them from crime to some extent, crime levels are high in Diepsloot and life is so cheap that people stab each other fighting for as little as two rand. The children of the rich in Dainfern go to elite schools and enjoy the best facilities and excellent teaching from their highly skilled teachers. The schools in Diepsloot are shambolic to say the least, with pathetic facilities and teachers that are not only unskilled but are unbelievably lazy. The conditions are so poor in these schools that you get Grade tens and Grade elevens who can’t even read and you find yourself wondering how they even got to that level in the first place. As a result of all this you find a lot of young people who have given up on the hope of ever getting an education and instead spend most of their time drinking outrageous amounts of alcohol and engaging in promiscuity and dangerous, risky sexual behaviour that is costing South Africa literally hundreds of thousands of young lives if not millions. In Diepsloot the average young girl is either pregnant or already a mother to two or three kids, all dependant on government grants for their sustenance since mom is often not working and the young lad who impregnated mom is too busy having fun and being young to care for the children he helped bring into this earth. In Diepsloot the people entertain themselves by spending their hard-earned money, which is a pittance in reality, on alcohol and soft drugs like dagga, whilst the rich in Dainfern are dining out at fancy restaurants, going to the theatre and doing all those things that make rich people’s lives fuller than the poor. I wish to God that the place I was describing was a made-up place which didn’t exist in reality, but everything I have described is true (and probably worser than I have been able to describe it with my limited vocabulary). Diepsloot is an actual place that exists and which I worked in for two years in my quest to change the world and help build a South Africa that was more just and fair and offered a better life for all its citizens. It is a placed I cried over for many days in my two year working stint after moving to Johannesburg from Cape Town. I would sit with young people who were in the most dire circumstances and my heart would break over them and the difficult life that awaited them, almost on a daily basis. Diepsloot is run by local Councillors who come from the ruling African National Congress, the so-called “party of the people.” These Councillors have done nothing for this poor community throughout their term and are often nowhere to be found when the community is dealing with its day-to-day challenges just to survive and yet now that it is election time you see these Councillors and their seniors from the African National Congress coming into the community, pretending to be surprised by the shocking conditions in which the people live and making more empty promises to change things around if they are given another term in office. Of course everyone knows that this is all just empty talk and nothing much will change once election season is over because the truth is that the ANC has long ago deviated from its stated aim of being the party that represents the interests of the majority of South Africans and has betrayed the revolutionary ideals on which it was founded even though it maintains the slogans and the songs which promise a “better life” for all South Africans if they vote ANC. Diepsloot represents the reality of a South Africa that is mostly run by an ANC government, which has become so focussed on enriching an elite few that it has long-ago ceased to be the revolutionary party that it claims to be. Diepsloot represents a clear picture of the way the ANC has failed the majority of South Africans in the most devastating manner. Of course the simple solution would be to encourage the people in Diepsloot to vote differently, to find a different alternative but even this would be of no help. This is so because the official opposition in South Africa, the Democratic Alliance or the Dompas Alliance as I call them have clearly shown their open contempt for the poor in the one province in South Africa which they run, the Western Cape. Despite the DA claiming to have an excellent service delivery record and the fact that they are always telling us how excellently the Western Cape is run, the truth of the matter is that the excellent services that the DA claims to offer, are in fact only enjoyed by its elite, minority constituency in the Western Cape and not by the poor majority. The only people who brag about how well Cape Town and the Western Cape are run, are those who are living in suburbia, enjoying a first-world life style. For the poor who live in the Western Cape there is no difference between them and the rest of the poor in South Africa who live in ANC run territory because despite its best pretensions the DA, like the ANC is a party of the elite and only cares about reaching out to the poor who live in places like Diepsloot when it comes to election time in order to get votes. In the final analysis the DA, the ANC and all the other political parties in South Africa offer the poor who live in places like Diepsloot nothing at all and hence it leaves one feeling that elections do not make a difference anyway. They are just a terrain for elite interests to be contested at the expense of the poor, at least in South Africa that is. Most South Africans are like the character Jack Linden in Robert Tressell’s novel, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, of whom it is said, “his life had been passed in the midst of a civilisation which he had never been permitted to enjoy the benefits of” and for this majority of South Africans it actually makes no difference who is in power as the evidence has shown, so one can only conclude that, elections make no difference anyway.
- A World of Takers
- There is No Rainbow in South Africa