Sowetan: Cut the stunts and do something real

Cut the stunts and do something real
11 August 2009
BOLEKAJA! – Andile Mngxitama

MINISTER of human Settlements Tokyo Sexwale spent one night with the Diepsloot poor – then he wrote a blow-by-blow account for the newspapers.

Apparently he is now armed with the views and concerns of that communities’ poor and will be handing in a report to the cabinet.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this comical political posturing.

The minister undertook this act of experiencing poverty for one night in full view of the admiring media. He endured, he reports, a night of untold discomfort.

Impressive indeed!

The ministers dramatics remind me of my shock and outrage at my first experience of Parliament.

I was there to make a submission for an amendment of farmworkers’ laws to give them a little more protection.

I was struck by how black parliamentarians demanded facts and “scientific” evidence that farmworkers in South Africa were living under conditions of semi-slavery.

I wondered what could have induced this amnesia in people, some of whom had experienced farm life directly.

We used to joke that once you get a big job in government or become a politician they give you an amnesia pill.

What did Tokyo Sexwale think he could discover from shack life that is not already known by every black person his age?

The one-night forays of the minister into the dangerous battlefield of Diepsloot sounds and feels like a huge publicity stunt.

This comes down to turning our political and developmental challenges into a soap opera to amuse the masses and keep them hoping.

But it also shows up the disingenuousness of politicians.

Sexwale forgets completely that most people in Diepsloot were dumped there by the ANC government with promises of a better life for all.

In fact, the minister has already blamed the “previous regime” for the service delivery protests we are witnessing right now.

By previous regime he doesn’t mean the apartheid government but the ANC under Thabo Mbeki.

Sexwale has even forgotten that he was once the premier of Gauteng and so belongs to the “previous regime” himself.

The Sunday Times reported that Sexwale is buying a whole island in Mozambique – yet the people he represents, and in whose interests he had gone into exile and to jail, continue to live precarious lives in shacks and in poverty.

Is this not the simple reality that must make us question what it means to be free? Hasn’t our freedom been sold under the tables of BEE deals?

The housing question is a problem inherited by the post-1994 government.

It needs a fundamentally different and democratic means to solve it. This solution must be related to other developmental challenges, such as income generation and livelihoods for the people.

Building houses is not rocket science. But instead of empowering communities we have surrendered this area to white construction monopolies that have made shocking profits.

A few examples since 2004: Aveng Group profits have grown by 1 854 percent from R170m in 2004 to R3,3bn in 2008, Murray and Roberts is up by 516 percent from R415m to R2,6bn and WBHO is up by 745 percent from R128m to just over R1bn.

It’s embarrassing but true that the matchbox houses built in the apartheid era are of a higher standard than most RDP houses our government has built.

We need to cut out the spectacles and get down to doing the simplest things.