/ 28 January 2010

Sexwale: New strategy to fix housing problems

Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale assured MPs on Thursday that the problems of faulty construction that have been found in low-cost housing projects “are a drop in the ocean”.

He told the human settlements portfolio committee that 2,3-million houses have been built and only 40 000 now need to be reconstructed or rectified, though he added that one house coming down is an entire failure.

Butch Steyn, for the Democratic Alliance, took issue with the total of 2,3-million houses built, saying that the figure really only refers to subsidies paid out, and not to houses actually built. Sexwale agreed with him and promised that his department would “dig deep” into the statistics available from provincial departments to get to the right figure.

Explaining a new vision for his ministry, which was demonstrated to and approved by the Cabinet lekgotla (meeting) last week, and which will figure in both the president’s State of the Nation address, and his own budget speech, Sexwale said that “Silos will be brought down”.

He said that he can’t go from one ministry to another knocking on doors

“This Cabinet lekgotla has got a strategy, details of which I can’t give you, so that I don’t have to go from one door to another negotiating with ministers. Silos have been brought down.”

He said this was a lesson learned from the private sector. “It doesn’t allow for silos, otherwise you lose the company, let alone profits.

“The strategy of Cabinet is to make sure we have an over-arching approach. You can’t integrate when you have got Chinese walls between departments. Or silos.”

He said he will be working with Sicelo Shiceka, the Cooperative Governance Minister, making sure that land is made available for housing.

The minister also defended his predecessor at the department, Lindiwe Sisulu, over the N2 Gateway housing project in Cape Town. Saying she was brave to have taken it on, he explained that it was a pilot project for the rest of the country, and that mistakes were made. “We have learned a lot from those mistakes,” he said.

One of the mistakes now being rectified was to have excluded the city of Cape Town from the project. The city is now being brought back into it. A letter has been sent to Dan Plato – the mayor of Cape Town — letting him know.

“Helen [Zille – the Western Cape premier] and I are working very closely on this,” he said. “That is why we agreed that Plato must come back.”

Describing the problems that his department faces as “as bad as Haiti”, he told MPs that there was a backlog of 2,1-million houses that needed to be built. But the rapid growth of urbanisation is making problems worse. He said that there are 2 629 informal settlements around the country at present. “In 1994 there were 300,” he said. These are people who live in bad conditions but ran away from worse ones. “They are refugees,” he said. — I-Net Bridge