- Leandro Braziers
- BBC News Brazil sent to Johannesburg
In 1941, a poor 23-year-old South African arrives in Alexandra, near Johannesburg, in search of a new life and a place to live. Soon after, he rented a small room with a tin roof, without heat, running water or electricity.
“Although the city council has built some fine buildings, it (Alexandra) can rightfully be described as a slum, a living testament to the neglect of the authorities. The streets were unpaved, dirty and full of starving and malnourished children running around half naked.” . Described decades later in a book.
The young man’s name was Nelson Mandela.
82 years after the anti-apartheid leader and former South African president who died in 2012 arrived in Alexandra for the first time, the city remains one of Johannesburg’s most dangerous areas, and tin roofs remain one of the city’s defining features. place .
Thirty-three years after the end of the formal system of segregation between whites and blacks in South Africa, the country has become, according to a World Bank report last year, the most unequal in the world. The Global Inequality Lab, run by Frenchman Thomas Piketty, states that the country has changed little in terms of income concentration in three decades.
The poverty of Alexandra Mandela is in stark contrast to the opulence of the stage chosen by the South African government to host the 15th BRICS summit.
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The meeting that brought together the leaders of Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa took place this week in Sandton, a district in the Johannesburg metropolitan area. The place is popularly known as “the most expensive square meter in Africa” and is six kilometers from Alexandra.
There, tin roofs give way to the glass-enclosed skyscrapers of modern design that house billionaire-turned multinationals such as mining companies such as Anglo Ashanti and technology companies.
The unpaved streets described by Mandela give way to wide lanes that have been filled with official cars for the past few days, carrying presidents, ministers and businessmen from the BRICS nations.
In this region, for example, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his accompanying delegation resided.
A few meters away from the conference center where the summit is taking place, there is a commercial complex known as Mandela Square (or Mandela Square).
There, an Alexandra resident watches the movement generated by the BRICS countries while waiting tables in a trendy Indian food restaurant.
Richard Malcano, 33, is a bartender and has lived in Alexandra for the past three years. He had been living in Cosmo, another poor area of Johannesburg, but had moved to be closer to his new job.
The restaurant where he works is located in front of a metal statue of Mandela, which is about four meters high.
“Do you know that Mandela lived where I live?” he asks.
Between one track and the next, he says, life and landscape in Alexandra have changed little compared to Mandela’s time.
“The streets are still dirty and we have to face power outages all the time,” he says lamenting.
Richard says he earns about 7,000 rand (in local currency) a month, which is just over R$1,800.
With no money to own his own home, he rented a room from a landlord and divided it into nine small rooms with access to only one bathroom. Richard says he feels lucky.
“I feel lucky in Alexandra,” he says. “My house, at least, has concrete walls.”
He says he didn’t have the chance to study because, as the eldest son, he ended up having to go to work and help pay for his sisters’ tuition.
Alexandra has a reputation for being a violent place and Richard says he knows that. However, he claims to feel safe in his neighborhood.
“I think I feel safe there because I’m poor. If you’re rich and you go to Alexandra, you might feel insecure. But when you’re poor like me, you think: Even if I die, what do I have to lose?” says Richard.
During the conversation, a South African Airways plane made a low flight over Sandton, and he talked about a number of politicians, businessmen and journalists in this affluent part of South Africa.
“Here in Sandton, most of the workforce lives in Alexandra. You (journalists) focus on who comes here, but you don’t focus on who lives in Alexandra. It makes you angry and it hurts. It’s a scar. If you’ve been there, the streets It’s full of police these days, but it’s not always like that.”
The fight against inequality has not been given much importance
Thirty-three years after the end of apartheid, Richard says he doesn’t feel like he belongs in his country.
“As Africans, we are still not free. We don’t go places not because we can’t, but because we don’t have the money to go. You don’t eat anything not because you don’t want to, but because you don’t have the money for it.”
And in South Africa, the richest 1% own 55% of the country’s wealth, according to a 2022 report by the Piketty Global Inequality Lab. The result is slightly better than that achieved by Brazil, which is also among the most unequal countries in the world and is the second most concentrated in income among the BRICS countries (the richest 1% in Brazil account for 48.1% of total wealth).
“Although democratic rights were extended to the entire population after the end of apartheid in 1991, severe economic inequalities persisted and worsened,” says last year’s study.
“The richest 10% of the population consists of 60% of white South Africans, who represent only 10% or less of the total population,” the text says.
Social inequality and the need to reduce poverty in the BRICS countries was one of the themes that emerged in the leaders’ speeches during the summit.
“The most obvious sign that the planet is becoming a more unequal place is the increase in hunger and poverty,” Lula said in a statement at the end. “This is unacceptable. Despite their scale, these problems are not being dealt with as quickly as they deserve.” the meeting.
But inequality has been far from catching the main spotlight. And what dominated the summit all week was the geopolitical chess game that led to the expansion of the bloc.
The group announced that it had invited Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Argentina, Iran and Argentina to join the group from 2024.
This announcement was the most anticipated moment of the meeting and was made at the Sandton Convention Centre. It is located just over 500 meters from where Richard serves his dishes.
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