The lives of many South Africans remain filled with despair nearly 15 years after the fall of apartheid, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel said on Thursday.

Despite an economic boom in Africa’s powerhouse, there is simmering discontent among millions of South Africans still mired in squalor and poverty in vast informal settlements.

And more than 14 years after the first democratic elections, unemployment remains high at about 23%.

“The harsh and ugly truth that confronts us is that … almost fifteen years into democracy, the everyday lives of many of our people remains as uninspired and as filled with despair as it was then,” Manuel said in a speech to honour late anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko.

Unhappiness with the pro-business policies of President Thabo Mbeki’s government have seen often-violent service delivery protests and triggered xenophobic attacks against foreigners earlier this year.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has repeatedly called on the government to loosen fiscal and monetary policies to ease the plight of the poor and workers it says have not benefited from an economic boom.

Cosatu and the ANC’s leftist allies helped elect Jacob Zuma to the leadership of the party last December, and he is widely expected to succeed Mbeki as the country’s president next year.

Calling for more “people’s power”, Manuel also urged “a richer discourse” on black economic empowerment, a government-backed policy which has drawn criticism for enriching only a handful of ANC elites.