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.