In the street next to the single-room shack in which Nelson Mandela lived when he first came to this city, a group of mourners dressed in funeral black and white were forming a line.
Margaret Msipi and the others were there to say good-bye to a friend, Khali Mufiwa, who had died on Thursday. As they waited for a post-cemetery lunch of rice and chicken, served in polystyrene boxes, they also reflected on the loss of Mr Mandela, who had passed away the same day, and mourned how little some things had changed since the neighbourhood’s most famous son was a resident.
When Mandela moved to the north-eastern Johannesburg township of Alexandra in 1940 and rented a room at 46 Seventh Ave, he made do without electricity or running water and later recalled hungry children running around.
Yet seventy years on, for many in Alexandra, and in countless similar places across the country, the situation in some respects is today little different. And as millions of South Africans on Saturday continued to celebrate Mandela’s achievements – from people lining up to sign books of condolence in upmarket Sandton or the crowds dancing outside Mandela’s second, later home in Soweto – it was in the still marginalised neighbourhoods that people insisted the revolution started by the first black president had yet to be completed.
“He gave us free schools and clinics but we have no houses – we are all still living in shacks,” said the 69-year Mrs Msipi, whose husband died 15 years ago. “And there are no jobs – the young people cannot get jobs. I have four children, six grand-children and two great grandchildren. They are all living on my pension.”
Among the most distressing parts of Alexandra is the S’swetla “squatter camp”, located next to a cemetery where Mrs Msipi and the other mourners had buried their friend. Here, up to 5,000 people live in shacks separated by narrow, uncovered alleys, where pigs forage in the rubbish and homes still have no electricity. Water comes from a handful of pumps and a line of portable lavatories are what passes for sanitation.
Michael Ngobeni, a community activist, led a tour past the homes that ended on the edge of a polluted stretch of the Jukskei River. Every year, he said, people drowned when the waters flooded. As he walked back up the hill, men clutching large bottles of beer looked up from simple bars.
“Mandela’s death is a great loss to the nation but over the last 20 years nothing has happened to us,” said Mr Ngobeni. “When you talk about freedom you cannot say we have tasted freedom. We don’t have electricity, proper water. It’s very bad.”
Figures released last year following a census showed that while the incomes of black households had increased by an average of 169 per cent over the past ten years, they still represented a sixth of those of white households.
“Great strides have been made,” President Jacob Zuma said at the time, according to Bloomberg News. “However, much remains to be done to further improve the livelihoods of our people especially in terms of significant disparities that still exist between the rich and poor.”
He added: “These figures tell us that at the bottom of the rung is the black majority who continue to be confronted by deep poverty, unemployment and inequality.”
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