Tuesday, October 30, 2007


The BBC's Peter Biles is keeping a diary of his travels across South Africa examining issues facing the governing African National Congress (ANC) ahead of its major leadership contest and national conference in December:

Free State

It is always a liberating experience to get out of Johannesburg and explore the vast open space of South Africa's "platteland" (countryside).
My first stop on this two week journey is the town of Smithfield where I meet Carmel Rickard, a writer and social commentator.
She left Durban six years ago seeking a better quality of life in the southern Free State.
Smithfield is a rather quaint little place, founded in 1848, but Carmel tells me it is typical of so many small towns across the country.
"This is a poor community with few resources, and people are struggling," she says.
"The infrastructure is hopelessly inadequate and the local council cannot provide essential services."
She adds that there is also corruption and maladministration.

The N6 highway (known as "The Friendly Route" - for a reason that escapes me) leads across the Free State border into the mountains of the Eastern Cape.
The Udaba Band expresses concern about political and social issues
Here the towns bear British imperial names: Queenstown, Jamestown and King William's Town.
They conjure up images of the 19th century frontier wars.
At the foot of the Amatola Hills, I reach the tranquil surroundings of Fort Hare University.
This is the oldest black university in southern Africa, and can boast having produced four African presidents and three prime ministers.
Some of the university's rebellious luminaries, notably Nelson Mandela, were expelled before completing their degrees, but all that is forgotten nearly 70 years on.
Under the trees in Freedom Square, I meet a handful of today's students: Lisa, Phozisa, Dumisani, Pumelele and Baxolisa.
I want to know if they are as politically engaged as their parents' generation which rallied behind the fight against apartheid.
The youngsters acknowledge the ANC's considerable achievements in moving South Africa forward since 1994.
Lisa says she is worried about the personality-driven politics that herald the start of the party's leadership race .
"It's quite confusing for me at this stage. You ask yourself which ANC: The Jacob Zuma ANC, the Thabo Mbeki ANC or the Tokyo Sexwale ANC?"
They are also anxious about the growing gap between rich and poor in South Africa.
"Who are these black leaders who know the interests of the people? The rich are getting richer and the poor getting poorer and it leaves us with a question mark. We feel like we are isolated," says Dumusani, a third-year politics student.
Phumelele introduces his Udaba Band - a trio of performers with traditional instruments - who produce a haunting, melodic sound.
The Xhosa lyrics express concern about political, economic and social issues of the day.
The ANC could do well to listen.



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