Two months before the elections, the former ANC liberation movement is failing to convey a positive message.

Historical photo of Sharpeville in 1961: dead and wounded lying on the ground

Sharpeville, March 21, 1960: one of the most brutal massacres of the apartheid era Photo: AP

SHARPEVILLE taz | Not much has changed in Sharpeville since South Africa's apartheid police carried out a massacre there 64 years ago. It was on March 21, 1960, when the police of this nondescript township opened fire on a crowd demonstrating against the draconian pass laws, according to which black people in South Africa were only allowed to enter a “white” area with a written permission. 69 people died and more than 180 were injured.

Today the streets of Sharpeville, south of Johannesburg, are full of potholes and wild garbage dumps. As in every other black township in South Africa, a legacy of apartheid in what remains the most unequal country in the world, power and water outages are a daily occurrence here. “Most of the young people here don't have jobs,” says a community activist. “Some are drug addicts, some are gang addicts.”

Not even South African President Cyril Ramaphosa could change that when the red carpet was rolled out for him in Sharpeville last Thursday to mark the anniversary of the massacre. South Africa celebrates this day today as Human Rights Day. It's election season.

“The political establishment and the government are using this day to celebrate their achievements since 1994,” said Sonezo Zibi, leader of the new opposition Rise Mzansi party. “But we only have to walk the streets of Sharpeville and other abandoned communities to see that there is not much to celebrate.”

Murder rate increases

Desperation in South Africa has reached its lowest point. Corruption among the ANC elite, which has ruled since 1994, is widely blamed for the failure of basic government services. Human Rights Day also commemorates the fundamental rights to life, equality and dignity guaranteed in South Africa's constitution.

In South Africa, however, the already very high homicide rate increases, inequality increases with corruption and human dignity is questionable when there is not even guaranteed drinking water in the metropolis of Johannesburg. In addition, there have been frequent power outages and rising unemployment and poverty for years in Africa's most diversified economy.

“73 South Africans are murdered every day,” said Mmusi Maimane, of the liberal opposition party Build One South Africa, at the Sharpeville Memorial Garden; the real number is 78. “There will never be human rights in South Africa until everyone is safe.”

Sharpeville holds a special place in South Africa's memorial culture due to the 1960 massacre. As president, Nelson Mandela signed South Africa's new constitution here and brought it into force. “We have a lot to celebrate,” President Ramaphosa said during his appearance at a stadium in Sharpeville, painting an optimistic picture of the country's situation.

There are often power outages.

Since 1994, Ramaphosa said, millions of people in South Africa have escaped poverty. 80 percent of households now have houses, 90 percent have electricity and access to drinking water. But he had to interrupt his speech twice because the power went out and the backup generators weren't working.

State electricity supplier Eskom had specifically ordered to suspend daily power cuts on Remembrance Day. In the afternoon the usual power outages resumed. Also on the afternoon of March 21, water was cut off in some parts of South Africa's largest city, Soweto, near Johannesburg, reportedly due to faulty water valves.

Rand Water, Africa's largest water supplier and responsible for the South African province of Gauteng, with 13 million inhabitants around Johannesburg, warned of an imminent collapse of its supply system. Some towns were also affected in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga provinces.

For this reason, South Africa's largest opposition force, the DA (Democratic Alliance), has filed a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission. The failure of the water supply was a violation of the Constitution, DA leader John Steenhuisen said.

It is no longer an absolute majority

In a campaign speech in Mpumalanga, he called the ANC “a government of human rights violators” and said: “The ANC has taken away their access to electricity. It has taken away their access to decent healthcare. “It has taken away your access to a clean environment, a decent life and the water that you and your families need to survive.”

Other parties also focus their electoral campaigns on the lack of electricity and water. “The country is in a water crisis and the government has no idea what to do, just like the electricity crisis. She doesn’t care either,” says Sonezo Zibi of Rise Msanze. According to opinion polls, the ANC is likely to lose its absolute majority in the May 29 elections. The main reason for this is economic problems.