Human settlements minister Tokyo Sexwale this weekend promised impoverished residents of Plettenberg Bay that he would establish a dialogue between rich and poor to help bring balance to the skewed economics of the seaside town.
Sexwale joined Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Western Cape premier Helen Zille on a visit to the town on Saturday and all noted the stark contradictions in Plettenberg Bay, long known as a playground for wealthy holidaymakers.
Paying a visit to resident Sarah Oliphant and her teenage daughter Precious at their house in the kwaNokuthula informal settlement, Sexwale vowed to close the gap between those who lived in fancy houses with sea views for one month a year and those who lived in crowded and dark two-roomed houses all year round.
“I want to start a conversation with the rich people in this area, to see how they can contribute to the situation here,” he said.
‘The right language’
The rich have a bad name among the locals in Plettenberg Bay, and Sexwale aims to change that. He took councilor Lawrence Luiters to task when the local politician referred to holidaymakers as the “stinking rich”.
“Why do you call them stinking rich when they pay taxes? I want you to use the right language. I want you to find the right language that will help you do your job,” Sexwale said, referring to the fact that if the rich contribute skills in addition to money, it would make life easier for the town’s politicians.
“Don’t think the rich are bad, we need them,” he told the councilor.
With his platinum-embossed Mont Blanc pen, Sexwale took meticulous notes of the complaints by the residents. A senior official in his office flanked him at all times and he will be the one to follow up with the residents once the hoopla of the visit is over and the cameras stopped flashing.
Sexwale admitted he had never visited this part of the town, but vowed to improve living conditions.
“These houses were built before 1994, but you can’t call them houses. They were built for emergency purposes. One day these houses should all come down, they are like tents, we can’t consider them to be proper houses.”
He also acknowledged the irony of him—a multimillionaire businessman-turned-minister—talking to the poverty stricken and made no bones about the fact that he was financially better off than Oliphant.
“I must say I do live in a better house than yours, but I will help you get a better one,” he assured her.
During Motlanthe and Zille’s morning visits to other residents they came face to face with with one of the key problems in the community, substance abuse.
Agents of change
“I was surprised that people who we were coming to see were clearly under the influence of alcohol. At the second house we visited the residents were dik gerook [had smoked dagga],” Zille told the Mail & Guardian.
Motlanthe complained that none of the homes had a “change agent”—a young person with the potential to lift the family out of poverty with the intervention of government.
Normally the government would supply such a person with study opportunities or a job of some kind, in order to set them on the path to a better life.
“Here we did not find any change agents,” Motlanthe told the M&G. “There were no young people whom we could assist. So all we can do for them is give [those we visited] seeds to start their own vegetable garden and in that way sustain themselves.”
Motlanthe also cut the ribbon to three new houses in kwaNokuthula.
All the politicians who visited the town this weekend vowed to make follow-up visits to the area.