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South Africa's poor face up to broken dreams on Mandela anniversary

As South Africa gears up to celebrate 20 years of freedom in South Africa, the moment is marred with disappointment for many of the nations poorest, who feel change has been slow to come. Today thousands of people are expected to gather near Cape Town to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release.  The moment Mr Mandela, who was 71 and had spent 27 years behind bars on Robben Island, walked free marked a shift from apartheid to multi-racial democracy. He went on become the country's first black president. His African National Congress (ANC) party has reduced poverty, built houses and delivered water, electricity and schools to blacks who had been without under apartheid. Still, though, needs remain great.

With some commentators likening the event to South Africa’s equivalent of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the occasion has sparked debate about unfulfilled promises and riots among the nation’s very poorest, who feel short-changed. Agnes Ntali shares her two-roomed Department of Housing shack in Soweto with three grandchildren. The 55-year-old widow, who first came to Soweto with her husband in the days after Nelson Mandela’s release has been waiting 10 years to be re-housed. “We have stayed here for a long time now but nothing has changed. Now we are free but we are not happy ... we have no jobs, we are hungry,” she told The Times newspaper. Since Mandela left, there have been no changes,” she said.

Last week the “informal settlement” or unauthorised shanty town she shares with several hundred other dirt-poor black South Africans, broke out into violence. Weary of unfulfilled promises to provide electricity and toilets, some people cut off the power to new council houses near by. A riot started and the police responded with teargas, rubber bullets and batons.  Across the Nation, black townships are erupting in violent protests about services they are still waiting for. It is a sign the poor are prepared to wait no longer for the better life that was forecast 20 years ago, but has, for thousands, failed to materialise. “My overwhelming sense when I look at South Africa today is just how far we have fallen from Mandela’s years in office,” said Andrew Feinstein. The former African National Congress MP, who resigned in protest over alleged government corruption, told the Guardian newspaper: “That’s now gone and I suppose I look at it with a sense of sadness. “This anniversary is bittersweet. When one looks at the personal morality of the current leadership, the level of corruption, the delays in delivery of basic services, the euphoria of the triumph over apartheid does feel tarnished.”

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children