In South Africa, a community struggling for clean water reflects wider discontent ahead of election

In South Africa, a community struggling for clean water reflects wider discontent ahead of election

HAMMANSKRAAL, South Africa (AP) — On days when a municipal truck comes to Hammanskraal to deliver drinking water, a queue of South Africans starts forming early in the morning to fill their buckets.

This is not a distant, rural community, but a township on the edge of the administrative capital city of Africa’s most advanced economy. It’s barely 30 miles from the government buildings in nearby Pretoria.

Hammanskraal’s problems — a lack of clean water, a shortage of proper housing and high unemployment — are a snapshot of the issues affecting millions and driving a mood of discontent in South Africa that might force its biggest political change in 30 years in next week’s national election.

The African National Congress, once led by Nelson Mandela, has been in power ever since the end of the apartheid system of white minority rule in 1994. But poverty, failing government services in many places and a national unemployment rate of over 32% that all mainly affect the country’s Black majority are seen as central to the ruling party’s loss of support.

Recent polls show support for the ruling ANC under 50% — and one as low as 40% — suggesting that it may be in danger of losing its parliamentary majority for the first time when the country votes on Wednesday.

“I have been voting for 30 years but I don’t see the difference,” said Linda Mampuru, who lives in the Hammanskraal neighborhood of Bridgeview. “When I vote this time, I want to see my children’s lives improve. My life has gone by because I am old now. Who will hire me? I want to see a difference for my children.”

Mampuru has taken to illegally connecting her water supply to a nearby municipal pipe that feeds the few communal taps in the neighbourhood so she can at least do laundry. She doesn’t trust the supply for drinking or cooking, though.

Hammanskraal also represents the complicated political picture emerging in South Africa. While many expect the ANC to slip below 50% of the vote amid the frustrations, the main opposition Democratic Alliance is not seen to be gaining significantly from that.

Instead, South Africa’s voters are turning to an array of different parties, many of them new, for answers.

As people in Hammanskraal trudge up to the water tank to get their share, the road is littered with election posters. Last year, an outbreak of cholera killed more than 30 people after the water-borne disease contaminated the area’s supply.

“Water has been a big problem. You can see that tap in my yard, there is no water coming out,” Tshepo Golele said after he filled his bucket from the community tank. He said water is also brought in by trucks, but sometimes “it delivers dirty water, we are not even sure where they get this water from.”

The problems in Hammanskraal, where the Democratic Alliance is currently in charge, have been well-publicized in South Africa and have been for years.

Deputy President Paul Mashatile received a lukewarm welcome when he visited Hammanskraal this week to campaign for the ANC.

“We need another 30 years of leading this country to a better life. We have worked hard for the last years, but we need more, but we can only get (that) through your votes,” he said, according to local media reports.

Some residents derided his comments, complaining that politicians often turn up when there’s an election coming, but their problems are generally neglected in between.

The ANC did have some success in changing South Africa in the years after the end of apartheid, which had oppressed the Black majority through a system of racist laws for nearly a half-century. In the first decade under the ANC, South Africa saw improvements in the standard of living for millions.

But that has largely stagnated and the World Bank now estimates that more than half of South Africa’s population of 62 million is living below the poverty line. Hammanskraal reflects a prevailing national mood of people not willing to wait any longer.

Kaizer Letswalo said he will be voting for a new party.

“We have been voting for these different parties (the ANC and DA), but we still live like this, we drink unhealthy water that is making us sick, we can’t even flush our toilets, we have to dig holes. You have seen how bad the roads are,” he said.

“I’m voting for a newly born party,” he added. “I think they can help people who are suffering like us.”


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