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Housing crisis is everybody’s problem – Sisulu

Christelle TerreblancheSunday Independent

http://www.sundayindependent.co.za/index.php?fArticleId=3255328

Housing crisis is everybody’s problem – Sisulu
Minister calls for wealthy to dig into their pockets to help eradicate slums and promote better living for all

May 21, 2006 Edition 1

Christelle Terreblanche

Lindiwe Sisulu, the housing minister, has made a rousing appeal to South Africa’s wealthy to help eradicate the country’s slums in order to provide dignity for all.

Speaking at an international slum-dwellers conference in Cape Town this week, she said “shelter” was at the moment “a poor man’s problem” and not seen as a universal issue.

“The poor stand alone in trying to convince the rich that housing is a necessity and an important problem,” Sisulu said.

Her appeal comes on the eve of her housing budget vote speech in parliament on Wednesday, where she is expected to make a major announcement about private funding to help eradicate the housing backlog.

Sisulu was also set to provide more details about efforts to compel all role-players in the housing industry to set aside a percentage of their investments for housing for the poor as part of an unprecedented social contract she hoped to forge.

Sisulu earlier this year clashed with banks after they were perceived to have reneged on aspects of a ground-breaking deal last year to make R42 billion available for housing loans to low-income groups that previously did not qualify.

In February, she accused the banks of dragging their feet over the loans – a centrepiece of her plan for a massive building boom aimed at not only eradicating shacks and changing the apartheid landscape but also providing the poor with sustainable assets.

Sisulu warned them that a bill to compel banks to make the loans was “in the drawer” ready to be processed before the end of the year. In an interview with Independent Newspapers, she would not lift the lid on the outcome ahead of her address to parliament this week, but it is reliably understood that agreement between the parties was reached recently and that a large-scale roll-out of loans to the poor was set to kick off.

Opening the conference on Friday, attended by about 200 representatives of Slumdwellers International from different countries around the world, she described the current period in history as one of the best so far recorded, “but morally very wanting”.

“The consciousness of the rich [is] closed to the poverty that surrounds them,” she said.

Sisulu said she wanted to repeat her concern that South Africa’s poor were among those who found themselves at the bottom of the housing pile and that housing provision was also central to meeting other United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) such as universal access to drinking water.

“Therefore the fight to ensure that the MDG’s we have set for housing [are reached] is a unique challenge to us. It should be a conscience-pricking goal for the rich * to see that they can provide dignity for all, because eventually it would have nothing to do with their own security of tenure, with their own comfort.”

A cornerstone of her ambitious plan for sustainable settlements is to eradicate 2,4 million slum dwellings by 2014 through building 15 percent more houses each year, in line with South Africa’s commitment towards the housing MDGs.

In her capacity as chairperson of an organisation founded in February, the African Ministers on Housing and Urban Development, she stressed that the body resolved to go far beyond the goals set by the UN as only a fraction of those living in slums on the continent would have benefited.

“So we are working very hard to change the mindset of the housing institutions to try to ensure that we can change the format of the MDGs.”

The organisations resolved last month that involvement of the poor in reaching the goals was a priority. In line with this, Sisulu pledged a whopping R145 million at the conference towards 5 000 housing subsidies for poor people in five provinces aligned to the Federation of Urban Poor (Fedup), which hosted the international event with slum-dweller partners on three continents in preparations for an international workshop in Canada next month.

The Western Cape administration pledged a further R36 million to Fedup, whose aim is to get beneficiaries involved in decision-making and construction of their houses.

“What we are trying to do is to ensure that we change the culture of our people,” Sisulu said of the government’s joint venture with Fedup.

She lamented the fact that banks were not present at the three-day event.

“The culture of saving in South Africa is lacking. We have involvement with experienced international organisations that are able to show it is possible to save for your house and then to determine where you live, how you live. The only stakeholders that are not here are the banks and it would have been nice to have them explain how savings and access to finance work.”

She acknowledged that previous efforts to get the poor involved in housing had failed but that recent visits to Brazil, Thailand and India had shown how it could be done.

“If they can do it, we can do it better. That is my philosophy,” she said.