Kristin Palitza
Kristin Palitza

Housing: Are good ideas wilfully ignored?

We’ve been promised housing for South Africans for a good 15 years now, but progress has been rather pathetic. The backlog remains at more than 2 million houses and government seems highly unlikely to make serious inroads into the issue soon.

This became painfully evident last month when it came to light that government flagship housing project Thubelisha Homes has not met its mandate and, even worse, become technically insolvent. According to news reports, housing director-general Itumeleng Kotsoane guaranteed R241.5 million in March to shut down Thubelisha Homes — money that could have been spent on building thousands (!) of low-cost houses.

At the same time, innovative and ground-breaking ideas have been proposed to government on how to solve the housing problem but such proposals have been so far (wilfully?) ignored, ostensibly in favour of creating housing projects, like Thubelisha Homes, that can be managed and run by those close to the ANC’s bosom (Thubelisha Homes, as we all know, was headed by Jessie Duarte’s husband, John).

In a press release distributed nationally last week, a South African firm of manufacturing engineering consultants accuses business leadership and government of wilfully ignoring a broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) business plan to create jobs, housing and growing manufacturing industries for hundreds of thousands of South Africans.

The plan was presented to Parliament in mid-2008 and was found to be feasible but nothing happened after this. Although Parliament instructed the Department of Science and Technology to fund the plan if they could not flaw it, no budget was set aside and no implementation plan put in place.

After months of unsuccessfully following up on Parliament’s promise, the firm, GWD Consortium, finally wrote an open letter to Jacob Zuma last week, requesting him to honour Parliament’s instruction to finance the scheme. As far as I know they are yet to receive a reply.

GWD’s housing scheme is basically a 100% BBBEE manufacturing plan for at least 250 community-owned factories that initially manufacture affordable housing and components on assembly lines, creating about 250 000 jobs by moving housing from the construction into the manufacturing industry.

The proposed scheme will provide communities with training, skills, expertise and factories that can collectively manufacture up to 350 000 bondable, SABS-approved houses a year. Initially, each two-bedroom house will measure 55 square metres and cost about R55 000. They will look and feel like a normal brick house, but with better insulation and options, the firm promises. Later, once the housing backlog is dissolved, the community-based and -owned housing factories can be used to manufacture all sorts of other products for local and export markets.

So let me get this straight. Here’s a plan that promises a solution to the housing backlog. It will be 100% BBBEE. It will create jobs. It will produce better quality low-cost houses. It will empower communities. It offers skills development. It will be sustainable. It de-politicises low-cost housing by turning it into community-owned businesses. It offers the potential to produce other goods for local sale and export.

Most importantly: Parliament thinks it’s feasible!!!

So why in the world does government not finance the scheme, especially since there is a blatant lack of better suggestions (and they believe it will work)? It seems that even if only half of what the plan promises becomes a reality, it would be, by far, better than anything else that has been done in the low-cost housing sector in the last two decades.

It makes me wonder: are good ideas ignored just because they don’t come from within the tight-knit group close to government? Are the rights of the poor sacrificed for political allegiance? You tell me.

  • Lizanne Barnett

    Yup, you are right. The question asked is: will it benefit me or my chums NOT will it benefit the benighted homeless.

  • John

    You are right. Offer one of the ANC elite a majority share and see the funding stream in….. only for nothing to happen after this.

    My father used to work in local government and he told me of a number of transactions in our municipality where the council vetoed projects such as this, because the councilors will not profit. My father is not a man to lie or make up stories.

  • brigs

    Sadly. you are right, hundred of the brightest mineds have been quietly at work on this issue. Finding often creative, insightfull solutions. To NO avail. Govenment simply is self seeking and anything which will not make them look good gets the chop. They basicly dont give a danm about the homless millions, only about themselves, their back pockets and their image. If your not rich, your not powerfull to them you are like the dog poo they seteped on at the park.

  • Cliff Smith

    This company should build a prototype, demo it at design fairs and the Rand Show then list on the JSE and sell shares at low unit prices so SA’s low income earners can buy in from the beginning and be empowered that way. Once they have raised enough money to buy land and start construction they just go for it. Screw the government, they are only interested in their own (ANC inner circle) self preservation anyway, why do we still expect anything else from them.

  • I’ll stay anonymous for this one

    I work closely with a low cost housing company and unfortunately there is a great deal of corruption that is halting progress at tender stage and beyond. If bribes to the tune of R2 million aren’t paid to the government officials in the area and the chiefs of the informal settlement the tender is not awarded. Simple, you may have completed numerous housing projects and your tender may be the lowest but that all counts for nought. Tenders are often awarded to large firms, not based in the area with little experience in the low cost housing sector who will charge the government the highest price per house of all the bidders.

    Often what will happen then is the work will be subcontracted out to much cheaper consortiums who build substandard houses and often walk off site before the contract is complete, this causes delays and red tape.

  • Fahk Moloch

    The politics of poverty dictates that problem hyping is first and foremost. How can the most brilliant minds continually miss the most viable and sustainable sollutions to our complex socio-economic challenges? The ministry of planning is oxymoronic in that the plans hatced are favouring the corporate elite. Starting fires to sell extinguishers.
    Why not implement proactive and beneficial economic policies to grant the country financial prosperity and freedom from bondage to the World bank/IMF economic hitmen. Perhaps when the honourable ministers start writing their own speeches and hatching their own plans, we might reap some real rewards. Stop working towards a national trade deficit and start liberating us from foreign indebtedness.
    We are a country of leaders, not followers.History will not be kind to saboteurs of any kind.
    If they have nothing to hide then start a public debate leading to a referendum. Unmask the charlatans. Revolution now!
    Amandla Awethu. Aluta Continua!!!

  • Anthony

    It’s a sad day when great ideas are ignored, and made more so when those great ideas would help those in the most dire consequences…

  • MLH

    You know far more about this than I, who plead woeful ignorance, but it does seem that anyone with a voice already has a house and therefore can’t be much bothered to follow up on behalf of those with no voices. Thanks for making the point. The shocking news we hear from time to time of badly-managed lists, etc. always makes me wonder where this will all end. Half the people who still want houses look too young to have been alive in 1994. I wonder just how much money has filtered down the drain over the years on just this particular promise to the people. And the other promises…

  • http://donothaveone Antonio Tonin

    Probably the most incredibly simple and innovative job creating project ever put forward in South Africa. The number of jobs is enormous, and best of all the increase in the quality of life, self respect and dignity of our less fortunate neighbours will make the rest of the world wake up once more in admiration at what this magnificent country can achieve. And it will be achieved mainly through the efforts of the workers with not too much input from Government

  • sid

    I’m with “I’ll stay anonymous..” on this one. The housing problems have everything to do with cronyism, corruption and incompetence and very little to do with systems, design and construction. I have also dabbled in the low cost housing sector (for free) and come away totally and absolutely disillusioned.

  • Peter

    I hear what you are saying and it needs to be taken up by the opposition in parliament.

    My caution: as an architect, the quality of the design and construction have to comply with set standards. But beyond that, and equally important are the quality of the spaces these massive ‘new towns’ will create.

    Using Genadendal in the Overberg as an example, which is being played out in just about every town or city in SA, this historic mission village has been ruined for ever, by dumping RDP houses on the veld outside the village.
    Not only is the whole regional ‘spatial structure’ ruined, but by dumping people 2 km form a viable working community, creates insiders and outsiders and perpetuates poverty, racial division and restricts access to viable economic sustainability.

    Factory houses might answer part of the problem, but replacing the usual RDP houses with these and still following the old ‘engineered’ layout and mindset will not create a sustainable living environment.

  • Lizanne Barnett

    Your example of Genadendal serves to make another point: the historic buildings there were built by ordinary people from the mid 17th to 18th and are still standing and kept in mint condition because of a sense of proprietorship! The whole RDP idea is travesty of common sense! Give people serviced sites, let the law do its work about basic regulations, give every previously disadvantaged person a one-off ‘allowance’ and let them get on with it! (Where historic spaces exist make sure there are tough laws to prevent this kind of desecration.)