The Star: Rich Tokyo spends night among poor

Rich Tokyo spends night among poor
Xolani Mbanjwa
August 04 2009 at 05:48AM

Tokyo Sexwale, the Minister of Human Settlements and one of the country’s richest men, has spent the night in Diepsloot, north-west of Joburg.

Monday night’s experience was meant to acquaint Sexwale with the hardships faced by millions of South Africans living in informal settlements.

It marked the first of many visits Sexwale plans to make to informal settlements on a nationwide fact-finding mission to uncover the reasons behind the service delivery protests that rocked the country and to assess the massive backlog in housing.

Sexwale will visit Joe Slovo informal settlement and Khayelitsha in Cape Town on Thursday.

He will also visit settlements in Bloemfontein and Durban.

Sexwale’s choice of Diepsloot was in response to the violent protests that erupted two weeks ago when angry residents of the densely populated informal settlement – home to an estimated 150 000 people – torched a police vehicle, stoned cars and burnt tyres in the streets after being told they would be shifted to Adelaide, another settlement nearby.

Although many shack dwellers who met Sexwale on Monday told him they did not want to move to another area, he was adamant that they would have to relocate because their shacks were built on top of a “dangerous” water pipeline.

Sexwale – himself born in an informal settlement in Soweto – appealed to community leaders, including taxi associations, religious leaders and business owners, whom he met in Diepsloot on Monday to be patient with the government’s roll-out of low-cost houses and services.

He told community leaders he wanted to see people’s living conditions and talk to residents himself so that the government could come up with a better plan for housing.

The economic downturn, unemployment, migration from rural areas, corruption and fraud were among the reasons Sexwale gave as causing the proliferation of informal settlements.

“We are on a sincere listening campaign to have a proper discussion about the lives of the poor. I came here to sleep among them (shack dwellers) to experience how they live.”

o This article was originally published on page 7 of The Star on August 04, 2009