A freedom fighter feels betrayed

As South Africans strike against rising prices, the ANC's new president, Jacob Zuma, faces the challenge of living up to great expectations.

Ndaba Zonge, 44, the KwaZulu-Natal provincial administrator for the MKVA anti-apartheid war veterans' association, says Thabo Mbeki has betrayed the legacy of the struggle, but hopes for better times under Jacob Zuma. Sebastien Berger *** Local Caption ***  strk5.jpg strk5.jpg
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DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA // For years, Ndaba Zonge fought against apartheid. A logistics commander in Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation, the armed wing of the African National Congress, he was involved in several battles in northern Angola as the regime and its opponents took their war beyond South Africa's borders. Now, 14 years after ultimate victory and the advent of majority rule, Mr Zonge feels betrayed by the leaders for whom he fought and watched comrades die by his side.

"Food is too expensive. Clothes, transport and food are too expensive for me," he said. "I'm not happy at all. I don't have enough for my family." Mr Zonge, 44, is the provincial administrator for the Umkhonto we Sizwe veterans' association in KwaZulu-Natal. His post is unpaid, and he makes a living selling mugs and posters of such ANC heroes as Oliver Tambo and Chris Hani - along with the new party president, Jacob Zuma. It is not a reliable living and he often sleeps in his office, away from his wife and four children.

Last week he set up his stall outside Durban city hall, where thousands of people gathered for a rally as Cosatu, the trade union federation, paralysed South Africa with a general strike to protest against rising prices. "Thabo Mbeki didn't do anything for the people of South Africa," Mr Zonge said. "Thabo Mbeki has betrayed us enough and we want to do away with him. Those in power, they seem to be not interested in the lives of the people of South Africa. Those people became selfish and thought of their tribe only; they tend to be power-mongers.

"It makes me feel very bad because I trusted them as my leaders. But they are not my true leaders; they are ANC leaders who can't be trusted." Rising fuel and food costs are global issues, but they take on additional meaning in South Africa where there are expectations of material benefits for the masses after the end of apartheid that many feel have yet to be delivered. Hundreds of thousands of houses have been built under the Reconstruction and Development Programme, but estimates of unemployment run as high as 40 per cent; three in 10 South African households do not have running water and one in five does not have electricity.

Even for those who do, the government has approved a price rise of up to 27.5 per cent as the parastatal utility Eskom, which imposed power cuts a few months ago in the face of supply shortages, seeks to make up for years of underinvestment. It has bred resentment and disappointment that Mr Zuma capitalised upon to present himself as a "pro-poor" candidate for the ANC leadership, sweeping Mr Mbeki from his party post at its congress on a tide of populism, despite corruption allegations against him.

His victory also shifted the balance of power in South Africa, giving the ANC's partners in the "tripartite alliance" - the South African Communist Party and Cosatu - much greater influence after years of being marginalised under Mr Mbeki, who is seen as pro-business, although his policies have delivered several years of strong growth. But the change has also created new and ever more unrealistic expectations. At the rally in Durban, the Cosatu president, Sdumo Dlamini, called for South Africa's main energy company to be renationalised. "Sasol should be government-owned because it is not competing internationally, but it trades in international prices and charges us more," he said.

Among other demands, the strikers called for the electricity price rise to be cancelled and for an increase in the amount of social grants and in the number of those eligible for them. Although Mr Mbeki will ignore the demonstrators, it is clear that Cosatu is looking to flex its muscles and is already demanding a payoff for supporting Mr Zuma in the fight for the party presidency. In Cape Town, its general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, called on the new ANC leadership to "stand up and be counted", and while Mr Zuma is a noted conciliator, Mr Vavi said he should stop reassuring business interests "over and over again".

"We are sick and tired of getting the message from the leaders we elected in Polokwane that there were no changes in economic policy. We did not vote for non-changes. We voted for change and we want those changes now, not next year." Oil, though, is one of the few natural resources that South Africa does not possess. Economic growth is now slowing, and global economic realities cannot be ignored so easily.

A letter-writer in the Durban Mercury said: "I have gained the impression from Vavi's recent public pronouncements that he fancies himself a prime architect in a Zuma-era economic regime. "This concerns me, as I remain unable to wrap my mind around the notion of tackling increased prices and higher interest rates by not working, nor how one makes South Africa a leading nation by becoming less productive and competitive. The foundations of Zumanomics seem mired in quicksand."

Ever since taking power, the ANC government has had to manage a delicate balance between redistribution to redress the inequities of the past, and persuading foreign capital that the country is safe to invest in. But the niceties of economic theory - or even majority rule - mean little to Wiseman Magaga, 23, whose job is to guard cars in Durban city centre. He makes 20 to 30 rand (Dh9.5 to Dh14.5) a day in contributions from motorists whose vehicles he protects from criminals, but his minibus fare back to his family's township house is 10 rand.

"If there's no money to go home I can't go home," he said. "I'm staying in the street; I have got no money. "Before, it was white government. If they saw us here they would come and take us, there was a place of safety." Institutionalised street children would at least be housed, fed and given some education, he said. Did that mean life was better under apartheid? His answer resonated with repression-induced deference. "Really, baas [boss], really."

Democracy, he said, was "right" but added: "For me it's difficult because I don't get nothing. Now you stay in the street until you die." @Email:sberger@thenational.ae