The township of Mandela's youth still struggles with squalor

ALEXANDRA, South Africa - Alexandra in Mandela's time was a desperately over-crowded place to which people migrated in droves looking for work.  It still is. 

They lived in shacks -- beside open sewers. They still do.

Life was hard, often short, and prospects grim.  They still are.

In Alexandra, people live in shack beside open sewers CBS News
 Ask Linda Twala, who has been fighting to improve conditions here for decades.

"This is not what we fought for," Twala said. "We thought by now we were going to be living in a habitable place, in a beautiful Alex."

If the test of the democratic South Africa is what it has done for those at the bottom, Alexandra does not give those now running the country high marks.


Activists have been fighting to improve conditions for decades CBS News
 "I would say they don't know our sufferings," Twala said.

Has the government forgotten them?

"I wouldn't say they've forgotten us, but something is wrong somewhere," Twala said.

Gladis Metetwa is 77 now.  She was a teen-ager when Nelson Mandela rented a room from her father.

"Now it's worse," she said. "Crowded and crime is too much."

Denis Goldberg, who was part of the resistance movement Nelson Mandela ran from a farm and who served 22 years in prison himself, sees Alexandra's problems differently. It will take a lot longer than two decades he says to right apartheid's wrongs.

"I'm not saying we don't have problems," he said. "I'm not saying that we haven't got a hell of a lot to do, huge amount, mega. But we've laid the basics.


In Alexandra, people still wait for a decent life CBS News
 The basics of a decent life are what they're still waiting for in Alexandra.

In his memoir, Nelson Mandela described Alexandra as 'a slum, living testimony -- he said -- to the neglect of the authorities'. Seventy years later, the authorities have changed, but the neglect is still here.

In the old days, Alexandra was called The Dark City, because it had no electricity -- no lights.  It's not that much brighter now.

  • Mark Phillips
    Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent, based in London.