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South Africa elections Friday, 4 June, 1999, 17:16 GMT 18:16 UK
Around the 'Rainbow Nation'
As South Africa prepared for its second multi-racial elections, the BBC's Greg Barrow travelled across the country, reporting on some of the main election issues:

Day one, the Eastern Cape: Education
Day two, Idutywa: Mbeki's home town
Day three, Umtata: The UDM challenge
Day four, Matatiele: The rural poor
Day five, Richmond: The epicentre of violence

Day Six: Bethlehem

Bethlehem is allegedly the coldest town in South Africa.

Sitting at the foot of the Drakensberg Mountain range where it snakes around the edge of Lesotho, Bethlehem suffers plunging night-time temperatures during winter.

The weather warms up during the dry winter days, but at night it is not unusual for the thermometer to drop well below zero.

South African Elections
Bethlehem is not a place where you would want to spend your winter nights in a rusting corrugated iron shack on an exposed piece of barren land.

But this is the lot of tens of thousands of people who are crammed into filthy squatter camps just outside the town.

These are what some political commentators in South Africa have termed the "un-people": those who have gained little from the fruits of freedom, and whose lives have barely changed since the apartheid regime was banished.

Housing promises

In 1994, the African National Congress boldly promised to build one million new homes a year during its first five-year term.

Of all the promises made in those heady days of liberation, this is now the most controversial, as the party has failed by a wide margin to meet its target.

Thousands of troops are being deployed across the country
The homeless poor now living in squatter camp shacks in Bethlehem are the losers, the people who took the ANC at its words, and who, five years on are still living in the same conditions that existed in 1994.

Joseph Rantamo of the Catholic Community Service is devoting his time to making these people's lives better.

He is not interested in politics although he admires the ANC for bringing black South Africans their political freedom. These days, he is helping to coordinate a scheme which aims to encourage the poorest of the poor to save funds through a community housing trust.

On a walk around one of the more desperate squatter camps in Bethlehem, Joseph shows me around the makeshift houses which pass for shelter.

"They pick up this material at rubbish dumps," he says, pointing to a house which is made up of a patchwork of rusting corrugated iron, cardboard and plastic bags, somehow glued together with dried mud.

"In the summer, when it is hot and we have heavy rain, water floods through the house, and in winter it is freezing cold."

In the area we walk through, there is one outside latrine serving 40 families. The houses have no electricity and no fresh running water, and when the wind blows hard off the nearby mountains, the flimsy structures have an alarming tendency to collapse.

The space inside is cramped, barely four metres square, but this is a space where families of six people live, sleep and eat, 365 days a year.

Freeze or destroy lungs

In the winter, the inhabitants heat their shacks with charcoal stoves which choke the interiors with noxious fumes.

The squatters are faced with an awkward choice: they can freeze to death if they choose not to light fires, or they can destroy their lungs if they seek warmth inside their homes.

The racking coughs of those who live here testify to the option that most have taken.

Some ANC supporters remain enthusiastic
Maria Mofokeng, an unemployed mother of four is one who is struggling to lift herself out of this desperate existence. She has joined the housing fund scheme and as treasurer on a community committee, and she spends her days knocking on doors and encouraging participants to contribute money.

The contributions are tiny, in a community where almost everybody is jobless, most people are hard pushed to set aside more than 10 rands - or less than $2 - a month for the fund.

Payments are collected on a daily basis where coins rather than notes are the commonest offering.

Maria had big dreams about her future when the ANC came to power, but now she is getting frustrated: "I do blame the government because they promised to build houses for us but we are stil living here where there is no water, and we don't even own the land that we are living on," she says.

"It's still difficult and I blame the government because they were the ones who made so many promises to us."

Patience runs thin

Across South Africa, this kind of frustration is common among the people who helped to vote the ANC into government in 1994.

Patience is running thin, but despite this, all of these people are still behind the party of government.

They may not have homes, electricity or water, but they have their freedom.

Under apartheid, squatters never knew when the bulldozers might move in and they could be cleared off the land like sacks of refuse and dumped elsewhere by the government. Now at least, they are left to enjoy what little they have with the peace of mind that they will not be turfed out of their homes at short notice.

This is something that money cannot buy. It is a debt of gratitude to a party which fought for and attained liberation for millions of black South Africans, and for this alone, the ANC can be certain that it still has the support of the vast majority of the population.

Links to more South Africa elections stories are at the foot of the page.


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