Cape Town - 140414 - In 2014 South Africa celebrates 20 Years of democracy. Elderly people from Khayelitsha speak to the Cape Argus, they recall voting for the first time in 1994 and how their lives have been since. Pictured is Reginia Mlindazwe. Reporter: Nontando Mposo Picture: David Ritchie

Cape Town - For some pensioners the freedom to live and work anywhere in the country is one of the best things about democracy.

But others say little has changed over the past 20 years as they are still living in poverty.

The Cape Argus visited pensioners at a community centre in Khayelitsha on Monday. They are part of the Neighbourhood Old Age Homes (Noah) programme which offers accommodation, activities and social support for the elderly as well as primary health care and wellness support.

They meet three times a week to socialise and take part in activities.

Pensioner Regina Mlindazwe, 71, told the Cape Argus that the country’s first democratic elections promised a non-racial country. “In our days you couldn’t just take any bus. You had to wait for a bus that was for black people,” she said. “Buses would pass you by with ‘whites only’ signs and you would stand there until a bus full of black people arrived.

“Voting meant we would be one. I wanted the freedom of getting into any bus I want. We now share the same toilets with white people,” she said.

Mlindazwe, who has used a wheelchair for the past three years because of diabetes, lives on a R1 300 monthly government pension.

She said a highlight was visiting Robben Island last year where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.

“I cried so much when I saw where he slept all those years… I will still vote for his party.”

Zola Mbathani, 65, plans to spoil his vote to show his unhappiness with the government. He said he had been trying to get a disability grant for seven years after a stroke which had left him in a wheelchair.

“I’ve been led from pillar to post. I’m now told I can’t get a pension grant as my wife is working. I am angry and have no reason to give my vote to any party. I have debts and an 18-year-old daughter to whom I can’t give pocket money for school. It makes me so upset when I hear how much money the president has spent building his home in Nkandla. I will draw a long X across my ballot paper,” he said.

Zandile Sigqokwana, 74, recalled how frustrating it was trying to find a job during apartheid because her dompas determined where she could work and live. Sigqokwana spent a night in jail in the 1960s because he was found without his dompas.

“When I voted in 1994 I didn’t even understand what democracy was. But now I know that it meant no dompasses any more.

“White people had us under a very heavy rock of apartheid and I was lucky enough to escape. I will never vote for any other party but a black party… I don’t want to go under that rock again,” said Sigqokwana.

Cape Argus