Poverty, corruption mean South Africans still not free, says president

Sunday, April 28, 2019

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MAKHANDA, South Africa (AFP) — A quarter of a century after the end of apartheid in South Africa many people remain trapped in poverty, in part because of rampant corruption, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Saturday.

“We cannot be a nation of free people when so many still live in poverty,” Ramaphosa said at a ceremony in Makhanda, formerly Grahamstown, in the south of the country.

“We cannot be a nation of free people when so many live without enough food, without proper shelter, without access to quality health care, without a means to earn a living,” he added.

“We cannot be a nation of free people when funds meant for the poor are wasted, lost or stolen (...) when there is still corruption within our own country.”

Ramaphosa was speaking 25 years to the day that black South Africans — who make up three quarters of the population — finally got to vote in the country's first democratic elections. In South Africa, April 27 is known as Freedom Day.

That election brought to an end three centuries of white rule and the apartheid regime that had been in place since 1948.

“Bound by a common cause, we fought apartheid together and triumphed,” said Ramaphosa.

“We are gathered here to celebrate the day we won our freedom.

“We remember the moment we placed a cross on a ballot paper for the first time in our lives,” he added, paying homage to Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid campaigner who was elected South Africa's first black president in 1994.

But, he added: “Ours is still a deeply unequal country.

“There are great divisions between rich and poor... between those with jobs and those who are unemployed.”

Ramaphosa is head of the African National Congress (ANC), the party that has been in power since the end of apartheid.

He took over as president in 2018 from Jacob Zuma, who was forced to resign as a result of a number of corruption scandals.

Despite the emergence of a middle class in South Africa, the continent's economic powerhouse, 20 per cent of black households still live in dire poverty, compared with only 2.9 per cent of white households, according to the Institute of Race Relations.

Between 2011 and 2015, three million South Africans fell into poverty, according to the World Bank.

And the unemployment rate in South Africa currently stands at 27 per cent, compared with 20 per cent in 1994.

“As we celebrate 25 years of democracy, we need to focus all our attention and efforts on ensuring that all South Africans can equally experience the economic and social benefits of freedom,” Ramaphosa told the crowd.

The president was speaking ahead of the May 8 legislative and provincial elections, in which the ANC looks likely to keep its parliamentary majority, according to the latest opinion polls.

But for some in the audience at Makhanda, Ramaphosa's message hit home.

“There's no such thing as freedom,” said local resident 31-year-old Vuyiswa. “We're still in apartheid.

“We are unemployed, no house, no water. We are really struggling,” she added.

“Older women have to go poo in buckets and throw them outside at night. It's not safe.”

In Cape Town meanwhile, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, celebrated the anniversary by attending an exhibition and book launch of notable photographs of his life, which have been turned into paintings.

Tutu won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his role as a unifying figure fighting the apartheid regime.

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