OPINION | In the darkness: The reality of the forgotten 'free'

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Houses in Orlando, Soweto, during the apartheid era, circa 1960.  (Photo: Archive Photos/Getty Images)
Houses in Orlando, Soweto, during the apartheid era, circa 1960. (Photo: Archive Photos/Getty Images)

The inequality and struggle of black South Africans are still very much present today even though apartheid ended in 1994, writes the author of Blame Me on Apartheid Thamsanqa D. Malinga.

After 26 years of democracy, black South Africans are still in the throes of inequality and struggle.

We are suppressed with regards to our ability to earn a decent living and are penalised, largely due to our colour and where we reside. But we need to go back in time in order to "set the scene" and contextualise these statements, and importantly, establish the underlying reasons.

In the late 1950s, the late African National Congress stalwart Msizi Dube founded and led the Asinamali campaign against rent increases in Lamontville, outside Durban. This was to be the most powerful weapon the ruling party would use against black apartheid-based municipalities. I remember how, growing up in Soweto in the 1980s, the campaign resurfaced and amagwijo (struggle songs) were composed and chanted by toyi-toying residents.

The call was the sound of people having no money. The draconian and racist act, the Payment of Wages Act of 1936, was in force. In fact, it was at a collective Union Conference organised by South African Congress of Trade Unions (Sactu) where the slogan "Asinamali – Sifun' Imali" ("We have no money – We want more money!") was adopted. One of the disputes at the Sactu 1957 conference was that "the majority of workers earn wages which were below the Poverty Datum Line (PDL) and are ill and undernourished".

Fast forward almost three decades into a democratic dispensation led by a black government – by the same party that popularised the "Asinamali" campaign – we see nothing much has changed.

Soweto's electricity issues

I recently saw a social media post by journalist Ntebo Mokobo in which he bemoaned the contentious issue of electricity in Soweto. In the post, Mokobo says: "There is no loadshedding, at least according to Eskom, but every fourth day there is no electricity in some parts of Soweto. Residents say this, and Eskom's load reduction happens only in townships and not in suburbs."

The residents' assertions are correct. Every "load reduction" notice I have seen released by the power utility is targeting townships. It started with those in Soweto, the West Rand and the Vaal. The latest "load reduction" notices I saw were targeting townships in the far east areas of Duduza, Tsakane and surrounding areas.

The case of the forgotten "non-beings" I write about in my book Blame Me on Apartheid is clear in this case of selective "load reduction". There are townships in Soweto where they have gone without electricity for weeks on end. Residents even resort to clubbing money together in order to hire their own "contractor". It gets worse and Eskom then finds an opportunity to wash its hands of the mess resulting from its strategy of forgetting and casting people to the periphery.

Many will argue that residents need to pay for services so that the power utility can provide such. Others will point to the capacity of the utility to cope with the demand. There are many stories we can all come up with to justify the state of "non-being" those in the peripheral townships find themselves in. The reality, however, comes back to the ruling party. Every five years freebies are promised as part of electioneering.

Writing in a prologue to my book, Advocate Vuyani Ngalwana notes:

Sadly, since 1994 that most evil and enduring apartheid achievement seem to be perpetrated by successive governments of what used to be a liberation movement, sacrificing the cerebral development of the black child at the altar of political expediency. It is a fact that ruling over an ignorant population is less complicated than having to account to a population that thinks. They can therefore reason and make informed choices, especially when the ruling elite has nothing to offer except promises of "a better life for all", which often translates to food parcels and poverty trap social grants.

Besides the promise of every free thing under the sun as part of the ruling party's electioneering, there is also the issue of record high unemployment. This is further compounded by our democratic government of the people gazetting the Basic Minimum Wage below the Poverty Datum Line (PDL). This is such an irony since workers in 1957 were complaining about this.

The townships continue to be the peripheral spaces for "non-beings" as envisaged by their colonial apartheid systematic creation. People in the townships will continue to be driven to "social death" through deprivation of services, poverty, drugs, etc.

Blame Me on Apartheid paints a picture of townships as a colonial apartheid project created to sideline black people (including coloureds and Indians) to the outskirts as "non beings", a philosophical notion of being nothing.

The legacy of apartheid has been the elephant in the room for the past 26 years and South Africans need to start discussing the effects and possible solutions to the problems it has caused people of colour. Consequently, we need to arm ourselves with the knowledge of the past to move forward into the future.

- Thamsanqa D. Malinga is the writer and author of Blame Me on Apartheid. The book is self-published.

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