South Africa: To Tap Votes, Politicians Promise Water ; with Less Than a Month before Elections, Politicians of All Hues Are Pitching the Basic Infrastructure

Article excerpt

While US voters are being wooed by presidential hopefuls with promises of lower taxes, better schools, and a sound Social Security system, the pre-election debate here is about nothing so esoteric.

South African politicians running in the Dec. 5 local government elections are pitching the basics - access to running water and electricity.

Illustrating how much this country has yet to recover from an apartheid system in which whites were afforded all the services expected in a modern society, while blacks lived in third-world conditions, all the major political parties here have made universal delivery of basic utilities their platform.

Currently, only 27 percent of the country's black households have running water, compared with 96 percent of the country's white households. More than 3.2 million, or 34 percent, of South Africa's homes do not have electricity. Almost all of those homes are non- white. Whites make up only 10 percent of South Africa's 45 million people.

WHILE the government has already spent billions of rand since the end of apartheid in 1994 to bring water to an additional 3.5 million people, at that rate, it will take more than another decade to bring tap water to all South Africans.

The wait for clean water is devastating many black communities. Since September, 32 deaths have been attributed to cholera in KwaZulu-Natal Province, where many households have to fetch water from streams, dams, or communal taps.

"The lack of progress the government has made thus far in providing these services isn't surprising," says Tom Lodge, a professor of politics at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. …