Hiccups in grand housing design

The attractive three-storey flats, with their landscaped gardens and paved walkways, stand empty almost two months after completion. They stand in stark relief against thousands of tin and wood shanties, with their concrete communal toilets.

The strange contrast on view in Cape Town’s Joe Slovo settlement epitomises the muddle and controversy that has beset the R2,2-billion N2 Gateway housing project.

Two years ago, Minister of Housing Lindiwe Sisulu announced the Comprehensive Plan on Sustainable Human Settlements, known as Breaking New Ground (BNG), an ambitious blueprint for nationwide slum eradication by 2014.

BNG was to be a radical departure from past state housing efforts, which have been plagued by corruption, mismanagement and sub-standard workmanship. The plan called for extraordinary cooperation between national, provincial and local government to circumvent bureaucracy and deliver at speed.

Sisulu promised that by July this year, 22 000 units would be completed in the Western Cape in three phases on a 10km stretch along the airport road. It was envisaged that 12 000 rental units would rise in phase one in Joe Slovo alone. To date, only 705 houses in that phase have been built.

The completed units are a fantastic model of the kind of dignified social housing the government envisages for the poor, but are unlikely to be replicated. From the original projections, the cost per unit has doubled to R160 000 and the overall cost of the scheme to R1,2-billion. A notable problem is that few of the poor people targeted by the development can afford the proposed rentals.

The original plan ignored the fact that the entire project is to be built on a landfill, requiring large-scale, off-budget excavation. No provision was made for roads, walkways and landscaping. Further costs have been incurred by the discovery that phase one stands on a 50-year-old floodplain.

Relentless spin doctoring and politicking by the African National Congress and the Democratic Alliance have obscured the real issues and lessons of the N2 Gateway. ANC provincial housing minister Richard Dyantyi, for example, is arguing that the project is driven by needs, not costs. Some DA members have suggested large-scale corruption, of which the auditors found no evidence.

But Cape Town’s new DA administration is understandably unhappy about having to pick up the ANC’s pieces. It can be expected to question the project’s current R28-million cost overrun, for which it may be held responsible, and fears legal action from unpaid contractors.

The commissioning of two audits on phase one—one by M3, the oversight committee comprising the three levels of government, and the other by Auditor General Shauket Fakie at Sisulu’s request—is a tacit acknowledgement that the scheme is in trouble.

The first investigation, by legal firm Cheadle Thompson and Haysom, found no evidence of direct political interference or corruption. But it did politely suggest that the appointment of Cyberia Technologies, a Johannesburg-based IT company with no experience of managing a housing development of this size, “may have been flawed”.

Cyberia was not the tender evaluators’ choice and was originally the sixth-listed bidder before being mysteriously bumped up. In February, its R7-million contract—it was ultimately paid R12-million after tendering R5million—was terminated and the project was handed to Thubelisha Homes, a national service provider.

Thubelisha was tasked with project-managing the houses still to be constructed, consolidating Cape Town’s seven waiting lists and allocating the Joe Slovo rental units.

In a recent speech, Dyantyi took an indirect swipe at former mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo and her city manager, Wallace Mgoqi, declaring that the city had been removed from the project in February, shortly before the Cape Town municipal election that the ANC lost, because of management incapacity.

Central to the runaway costs of the project was the turnkey system of contracting. In contrast to the traditional method of completing planning, costing and design before contractors are hired, it requires contractors to provide design and construction.

“There is nothing wrong with the turnkey method per se, but you need very strong project management,” said one industry expert. A good project manager, he added, would have carried out a geotechnical assessment and discovered that the Joe Slovo settlement was built on a landfill unsuitable for high-density housing.

New Director General of Housing Ithumeleng Kotsoane admitted that mistakes had been made, including the use of the turnkey method.

“This is a national pilot project, approved by Cabinet. If it gets attacked because of flaws, we must look at this. If someone has committed a crime, he or she will be arrested. The point of the project was not to have a big scheme for milking the government—it was to provide housing,” he said.

Client Media Releases

Survey rejects one-sided views on e-tolls
Huawei forms partnerships to boost ICT skills development
North-West University Faculty of Law has a firm foundation
Humanities lecturer wins Young Linguist Award
Is your organisation ready for the cloud (r)evolution?