Media: Poor are worse off now, says activist

19 04 2009

April 15, 2009 Edition 1
Francis Hweshe
Source: Cape Argus

Just before bedding down for the night on a pavement in Delft, a veteran New Zealand anti-apartheid activist said that despite democracy in South Africa, there was greater economic inequality now than under white minority rule.

John Minto, in the country for the first time, made headlines last year when he rejected then-president Thabo Mbeki’s nomination for the Companions of Oliver Tambo Award.

In rejecting it, he wrote to Mbeki that “it seems the entire economic structure which underpinned apartheid is essentially unchanged. Oppression based on race has morphed seamlessly into oppression based on economic circumstances”.

Commenting on the timing of his first visit to South Africa, Minto said it was a mere coincidence that it co-incided with the coming elec-tions on April 22.

He said the purpose of his visit was to see “what has happened 15 years on and what has changed for the most vulnerable”. He said he wanted to take a message home for those who had fought against apartheid.

Asked whether his anti-ANC stance regarding the party’s social and economic policies had changed, he said: “The faces at the top have changed from white to black but the substance of change is an illusion.”
Minto visited a few Cape Flats communities yesterday and then spent the night with the Delft pavement dwellers, evicted from the N2 Gateway housing project last year.

He was expected to meet with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu today before continuing his trip across the country.

Asked why he wanted to sleep on the pavement, he said: “It’s a small act of solidarity.

“The sentiment is strong. I talked to a number of people and they said that they had political rights but no social and economic rights,” he said.

Minto said people had lost faith in the ANC, taking a swipe at the government’s free- market approach, which he said favoured the rich few and suppressed the poor majority.

He said he had read the ANC and Cope election manifestos and that they contained “nothing inspiring”.

“There are just words that don’t transform into anything,” said Minto.

He equated the ANC with Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, saying that in the coming five years the situation was bound to get worse for the poor.

Minto said society should be judged by how it aimed to change the lives of the poor.

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