During apartheid, the Transkei was a place of destitution: thousands of mud-walled, grass-roofed huts where people lived without running water, electricity and roads. Apartheid’s rulers absolved themselves of any blame for this poverty by arguing that blacks were free to do what they wanted in the homelands — but had proved unwilling or incapable of developing. It wasn’t an argument that washed with their opponents. The Eastern Cape’s poverty lit the flame of rebellion in Mandela and Mbeki, both born and raised near the dirt-poor Transkei city of Mthatha, and Steve Biko, who grew up in nearby King William’s Town. Even today, both the ANC and COPE claim the Eastern Cape as their heartland. Which makes it all the stranger that the ANC has done so little to improve the region.
Today much of the Eastern Cape is still typified by mud-walled, grass-roofed huts without running water, where boys ride horses, girls carry babies on their backs and families subsist on cattle, sheep, goats, chickens and maize. A new power grid has reached most homes — but supply is erratic. Most roads remain unpaved. In Mthatha, 74% of the population earns less than $150 a month and 43% are unemployed.
In its 2009 election manifesto, even the ANC admits inequality has increased. Life looks grim on this side of the rainbow nation. Sinking in a cloud of alcohol from Friday night till Monday morning, the whole city bears all the stigmas of political neglect. There are thousands of Mvezos in South Africa, hundreds of Mthathas and hundreds of big city townships too.
in 2009, a jolt at the ballot box could have proved a much needed reminder to the ANC that it is there to serve the people, and not the other way around.