ENNERDALE, South Africa: The piles of stinking rubbish are growing, running water and electricity are scarce. In Ennerdale, public anger over the failures of post-apartheid South Africa has reached boiling point, exploding into a wave of violent protest.
Here, on the outskirts of Johannesburg’s sprawling Soweto township, the tightly-packed red-brick houses conceal a deep-rooted sense of frustration which in recent weeks has morphed into fury.
Outraged locals have burnt tyres and attacked police over chronic unemployment, shortages of electricity and water, as well as substandard education and health care.
“Look where we’re living. Ten people are staying in this room, nine more in the shack behind, all from the same family,” said 21-year-old Celine Brown, a local resident.
Rubbish has gone uncollected for longer than anyone can recall and dependable supplies of water and electricity are a pipe dream.
Anger among the 17,000 people living here has reached fever pitch.
Initially, the protests took the form of marches with demonstrators burning tyres on roads.
But they soon escalated into arson attacks on buildings, clashes with police and looting.
Brown said she had been waiting for a basic government-funded home for three years.
“Maybe it’s because they’re not hearing us. Maybe it’s that they don’t understand the situation we are going through because they have better lives,” she said.
No drinking water
Brown was born in the single-room house with a cement floor that becomes freezing in winter.
Through an iron grill, she looks out onto the strip of dirt that is her garden. On the other side of her property is a wooden shack.
Three generations are packed into her house, which has neither drinking water nor lights — and no one in the household has work.
“If the government is not doing anything about the situation we are in, it is just going to get worse and worse. Rioting is the only thing to do,” she said.
Other parts of South Africa’s largest city have also erupted into violence over the lack of basic services
The flare-ups are almost a daily occurrence in South Africa — the continent’s most developed economy — and are known locally as “service delivery protests”.
And a quarter of a century after the fall of apartheid, Brown’s plight highlights the persistent inequality dogging the rainbow nation.
A few streets away the situation is just as bad.
“There are no toilets. We sit on the bucket in the house and go and pour it there,” said Valerie Mabimbeli, 64, pointing outside. “Give us proper houses.”
“Our people cannot live for over 30 years in a situation where there is no water, no electricity. I feel that it is unfair and inhumane,” said another resident, 46-year-old Marge Cass.
“If there are no jobs, if there is no proper housing, we will have no youth that has a vision to wake up and say ‘I want to go to a job’ or ‘I want to go to school’ … This is the birth of crime.”
With unemployment at 25 per cent and growing relentlessly, the chronic lack of housing is one of the most visible aspects of the economic challenges facing South Africa.
There have been no new homes built in Ennerdale since 1994 — the year of South Africa’s first non-racial election.
The ruling ANC made limited progress investing in infrastructure but some of those gains have been lost since the 2008 economic crisis.
Of South Africa’s 55 million people, 13 per cent live in “informal” dwellings, according to official statistics.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa recently spoke out about the scale of the problems facing the country.
“We have not grown enough or created sufficient jobs to defeat poverty and unemployment,” he told parliament earlier this month.
Addressing the protesters in Ennerdale, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu sought to reassure them.
“We are not deaf to your problems,” she said.
Many of Ennerdale’s residents are mixed-race — in official terms “coloured” — and they have accused the government of discrimination.
“The government has not developed these communities economically as they have done with black African communities,” said Jerome Lottering standing with a group of protesters in Eldorado Park.
“We are sitting on a ticking time bomb — if things are not being done to change the lives of millions of people, this country is going to burn.”
Gabriela Mackay, a race relations researcher, said the “race problem is less of [an] issue” than the fact that people feel their votes just don’t count.
In front of her sister’s derelict home, Marge Cass, a spokeswoman for the residents, doubts that national elections in 2019 will improve the situation.
“We vote here but nothing has ever changed,” she said.