/ 14 June 2013

Building a better South Africa

Building A Better South Africa

Speaking at the annual Govan Mbeki Awards to honour those who performed exceptionally in delivering quality housing, Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale paid a moving tribute to Mbeki, or "Oom Gov".

"He was the father to former President Thabo Mbeki. That is how qualitative he was; because not many fathers produce a president. He remains a very iconic and emblematic person.

"I stayed with him for 13 years in Robben Island and there was nobody there who was a stickler to detail like Oom Gov. He authored a number of books and was a meticulous editor who was best with both the language and punctuation.

"He played a great role in editing former president Nelson Mandela's book, The Long Walk to Freedom. He was known among his peers as someone who pursued excellence. And since the awards are a night of celebration, the subject for the evening is excellence and achievements. These are things that are very close to my heart," the minister said during his speech at the event.

Taking care of people
Sexwale said that the government had been elected into power on the basis of its policies, which were designed to take care of people, the majority of whom were poor.

"What I do every day, keeping my side of the bargain, is to make sure that I take care of the people of this country where they live. We do not build informal settlements. We strive to build sustainable human settlements where people will have proper sanitation, health and education facilities."

He said that it remained a challenge because there were at least 2 700 informal settlements in the country.

"Nobody wants to live there, but most people in these settlements ran away from the clutches of poverty in the rural hinterlands. They are subjected to all sorts of difficulties, such as the stench of the bucket toilet system and lack of access to proper roads and public transport.

"But we are trying our best. To date, this government has provided approximately 3.3-million housing units and opportunities," he said.

A second area of the work of his department was to ensure the quality of the settlements that are built, said the minister.

"Quality is what we should give because our people deserve better at all times. In all our endeavours, let us ensure that quality is not compromised.

"Putting up quality houses is better than chasing numbers and erecting deficient houses all across the country. I live in Sandhurst. My house there may be bigger, but it must be of the same quality as those that I build. That is why we have, since 1994, increased the amount we spend on a single house from R12 000 to R89 000."

Driving policy implementation
Sexwale said that this had resulted in the department coming up with various innovations in housing, the most optimal being the Financed Linked Individual Subsidy Programme.

In this programme, the government gave guarantees to banks and financial institutions so that they could lend money to low and middle income people who wanted to buy or build homes.

"This means that we have now upgraded our strategies to help people and can provide them with houses of up to R300 000.

"The programme benefits both blue collar workers and other professionals such as teachers, policemen, nurses, prison warders and firefighters who can get loans or mortgages from banks."

The third leg of the department's policy took care of middle income earners.

"We hold the banks and estate agents accountable so that you are not cheated. And what is the single most important thing that as the department of human settlements we are trying to drive here? De-racialisation.

"We want to de-racialise South Africa so that we can live together. At the moment, our country is segregated.

"We can go to the same sporting events but when we go home, we are separated. South Africa is like that, no single town in this country escaped the apartheid segregation policies."

Combating corruption
One of the challenges to overcome was corruption, he said.

"Corruption has become endemic in our society. It is one of the things that people in South Africa are becoming more worried about.

"It disturbs what we do and we simply cannot build on the basis of corruption. Those corrupt people just want to play with public money.

"I have even thought of setting up a government construction company, but if we have high corruption levels that too will not succeed."

He said that corruption led to poor quality in construction.

"Cement is like glue for the house. If you steal five of the 20 bags allocated, the house you build will collapse.

"There is also the problem of price fixing. Nothing is as dangerous as the inflation of prices.

"We spend time acting like policemen chasing after corrupt people, because their actions inconvenience the beneficiaries. Nepotism, favouritism and manipulation of waiting lists are all the ills that we have to deal with," he said.

"Our message to the corrupt is simple: we will continue to embarrass you by arresting you, even if you have money and powerful lawyers, you will face the full wrath of the law."