South African democracy marks 20th anniversary

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In this photo taken on Thursday, April 24, 2014, commuters hang on to a moving passenger train in Soweto, south of Johannesburg, South Africa. As South Africa marks the 20th anniversary of multiracial democracy on Sunday, April 27, the achievements and soaring expectations of what was dubbed a “rainbow nation†have been tempered by a different inequality – the yawning gulf between rich and poor. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

In this photo taken on Thursday, April 24, 2014, commuters hang on to a moving passenger train in Soweto, south of Johannesburg, South Africa. As South Africa marks the 20th anniversary of multiracial democracy on Sunday, April 27, the achievements and soaring expectations of what was dubbed a “rainbow nation†have been tempered by a different inequality – the yawning gulf between rich and poor. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

In this photo taken on Saturday, April 19, 2014, children play on the beach at Clifton, a white-only area during the Apartheid era, near the city of Cape Town, South Africa. As South Africa marks the 20th anniversary of multiracial democracy on Sunday, April 27 and despite notable gaps in service, it has delivered housing, water and electricity to millions since 1994 and boasts a widely admired constitution and an active civil society, but struggles with high unemployment, one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime and is still working through issues of race and identity. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

FILE – In this Wednesday, April 27, 1994 aerial file photo, people queue outside a polling station to cast their votes in the nation’s first all-race elections in the Soweto, township, southwest of Johannesburg, South Africa. As South Africa marks the 20th anniversary of multiracial democracy on Sunday, April 27 the achievements and soaring expectations of what was dubbed a “rainbow nation†have been tempered by a different inequality – the yawning gulf between rich and poor. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell, File)

In this photo taken Wednesday, April 23, 2014, a child poses for a photograph outside his school in a Johannesburg suburb. Since 1994 South Africa has opened schools to all races and boasts a widely admired constitution and an active civil society, but struggles with high unemployment, crime, race and identity. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

In this photo taken on Saturday, April 19, 2014, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, center, speaks after he marched in a rally with other religious leader under the banner of ‘A Call to Witness’ to parliament in the city of Cape Town, South Africa.“How can you describe falling in love?†That is how retired archbishop Desmond Tutu this week recalled the joy of voting in South Africa’s first all-race elections on April 27, 1994, an exultant moment when a population torn by racial conflict stepped out of the shadow of the white minority rule known as apartheid. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — “How can you describe falling in love?”

That is how retired archbishop Desmond Tutu this week recalled voting in South Africa’s first all-race elections on April 27, 1994, an exultant moment when the nation’s majority blacks and other oppressed groups broke the shackles of white rule.

But as South Africa marks the 20th anniversary of multiracial democracy on Sunday, the achievements and soaring expectations of what was dubbed a “rainbow nation” have been tempered by a different inequality — the yawning gulf between rich and poor.

This uneven narrative will shape elections on May 7 likely to see the ruling African National Congress — which led the fight against apartheid and has dominated politics since its demise — return to power with a smaller majority, reflecting a growing discontent with the party.

One election candidate is Julius Malema, the expelled head of the ANC’s youth league and now leader of an upstart party that wants to redistribute wealth. Malema, who wears a red beret on the campaign trail, has criticized the government as elitist, saying real freedom will only come when the poor own a fair share of the land.

Despite notable gaps in service, South Africa has delivered housing, water and electricity to millions since 1994 and boasts a widely admired constitution and an active civil society, but struggles with high unemployment, one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime and is still working through issues of race and identity.

“It’s nice to celebrate that we are here,” said Gundo Mmbi, a student at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. But she said the 20th anniversary of democracy is also a time to reflect on the need for change in South Africa, citing “really crazy” corruption and a lack of opportunity for the poor.

“It’s not just about your color anymore,” she said “Discrimination has gone beyond.”

South African officials will highlight gains of the last 20 years on Sunday at the Union Buildings, a government complex in Pretoria that was once the seat of white power. The government is launching a slick television ad that depicts neatly stacked shipping containers on a pier to symbolize South Africa’s international trade, housing developments, gleaming infrastructure such as the high-speed Gautrain transit system, and SKA, an international project to build a radio telescope, based in South Africa and Australia, that will observe the sky.

It all falls under the official slogan: “South Africa — A Better Place to live in.”

But it is not better for many South Africans who remain jobless and without even basic services like running water, sewage and electricity.

In an echo of the apartheid era, many cities feature crowded clusters of shacks, and lush suburbs with homes behind high walls topped by electric fencing.

The income gap can be stark. In Johannesburg, beggars stand at many intersections in affluent areas. This week, one black man stood before a passing stream of Mercedes, BMWs and other luxury cars, holding a sign that read: “Help me please. I’m starving. Anything I can accept. God bless you.”

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