The government always lags far behind, seemingly without a plan, as more and more informal settlements spring up.
Image: Michael Pinyana

When Nelson Mandela walked out of Victor Verster Prison on February 11 1990, something remarkable happened. In the weeks and months immediately after his release hundreds of “squatter camps” (as they were called, pejoratively, then) mushroomed around townships and cities in South Africa.

Many of them were named Mandela Village in honour of the great man. There wasn’t a township that didn’t have a Mandela Village or Mandela City next to it. When that name was over-subscribed, Winnie Mandela settlements followed. Then Chris Hani was murdered and his name appeared on new settlements.

The phenomenon has never really stopped. After 1994 the Mandela administration followed the lead of these settlements, installing electricity lines and water and sanitation for many in a race to catch up. The settlements have always led, though, with the government always far behind, seemingly without a plan.

There has been a great migration across our land. The poor have fled rural areas, particularly the former bantustans, to seek a better life for themselves in the big cities. They want jobs. There aren’t any in the former Bophuthatswana, or the former Venda and Ciskei and Transkei. The jobs are in Joburg, Cape Town and other urban centres. Even then, these jobs are few and far between.