Keynote address by Minister of Housing

KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY L N SISULU MINISTER OF HOUSING AT THE FIRST ANNUAL GOVAN MBEKI HOUSING AWARDS

27 October 2006

Centre Court, Emperor’s Place

Johannesburg

________________________________________

Ministers

Deputy Ministers

Members of the Provincial Executive Councils

Chairperson and Members of the of the Portfolio Committee on Housing

Chairperson and Members of the Select Committee on Social Services

Chairperson and Council of the NHBRC

Chief Executive Officers of Housing Institutions

Finalists of the Award Categories

Honored guests

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Here is the real reason why we are here today. The respected philosopher Bertrand Russell ascertained for all to look out for this danger point:

"One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important".

I believe my work is terribly important. And I know each one here too thinks our work is terribly important. So I considered we might as well all come here and have a communal nervous breakdown

It is with great pride that today we celebrate the first Govan Mbeki awards. In our calendar this will be an annual event. It is befitting that these awards are named after this great hero of our liberation struggle. I would like to thank the Mbeki family, who, through Mrs. Ephainette Mbeki allowed us the honor of using Govan Mbeki’s name to bestow recognition on deserving individuals. This is a celebration of achievement and excellence despite all odds.

Through these awards we recognize Govan Mbeki as a stubborn empathizer with the people whose cause he fought for. In 1938 he abandoned his profession, teaching, to focus on issues that related to analyzing, understanding and thereafter mobilizing his people. In 1954, by this time based in Port Elizabeth, he joined the editorial board of New Age from where he lambasted the moral depravity of Apartheid by focusing on the conditions in which black people lived. It is here, in the pages of New Age that he mounted the resistance, particularly to the Bantu Authorities Act, highlighting as he said, that "black human beings are not cattle, sheep or pigs and that the government of the day would live to regret its ignorance’. He had a way with words, our Oom Gov. His mastery of language made it possible for him to document as he mobilized against Apartheid. And thus in 1956 he had analyzed, not from a distant academic basis, not as a distant observer of events, but as an activist steeped in theory, that:

"The basis of the South African economy is the exploitation of labor that is unsettled, labor that has no home, labor that can be directed along certain channels as water is diverted to run along certain furrows, labor that has no security of tenure, labor that is always on the move, labor that has no home . . ."

This is what we seek to change. Provide a home, a decent home for our people.

We, as a people have already spent a century denying the basic fact and logic of the shared creation of wealth and mutual progress and development. At the altar of capitalist greed and callous governance, the quality of life of entire generations, was, as a result, severely compromised. Now the task of correcting that, transforming and reconstructing society has fallen squarely on ourselves. It has fallen on us, who have given people the reason to hope and we are grateful to those who have charted the path to make this possible.

Worldwide and in all spheres of society, public reward is given for outstanding performance. Society uses the reward system to propel itself to higher levels of achievement. This is a phenomenon best understood from a behavioral aspect, that rewards are used as a mechanism of ensuring and reinforcing continued good actions and a mechanism that shape and maintains the topography of behavior. We have come to accept that rewarded good behavior and actions are reinforced and continued by the actor.

It is a given too, that human beings have found in this a way to acknowledge and show gratitude for that from which they have stood to benefit. We, today want to do the same. After much deliberation, we thought there was need for the Department of Housing again to tap into this mechanism.

In countries where Housing Awards have been institutionalized, it has been found that the quality of entries improved with each year. Significantly, it has also been found that there had been attendant improvements, not only in the creativity of housing practitioners, but also in the quality of housing.

We hope that we will follow the same trajectory, that perhaps this being the first, we would accept that we are set to improve next year. Dare we hope that in time, this will also improve the quality of housing? The latter, being a much needed development, especially as it is the low cost housing beneficiaries that are invariably the unfortunate victims.

These awards are for honoring all the role players in the housing value chain, including developers, building contractors, the banking sector, community based organizations, the mining sector, building materials suppliers, professional associations that have committed to partner with government in building sustainable human settlements and making the millennium development goals achievable by 2014. These awards provide an opportunity for sharing information, examining lessons learnt and strengthening existing partnerships.

While this is a time for celebration and rewarding those that showed excellence, I would however like us to reflect on the contextual realities in which the nominees of the various categories in these awards managed to succeed and the realities that should never be too far from our minds.

The demand for housing, especially government assisted housing has increased by about 30% while the normal increase was expected to be about 10%. This has been as a result of a population spurt experienced in urban areas. This unprecedented increase is caused by the high rates of migration from the rural areas and natural population growth; further compounded by other factors such as the decrease in the size of households due to changes in societal norms. The figure of 2.4 million households is the last recorded backlog. But, as you will attest to, as we build, we give hope to many more and informal settlements grow at an alarming rate. The problem presents itself in stark reality as urban poverty grows.

We have enormous pressure, because, as you know, housing is a basic need and an emotive issue. Calculated at today’s price, it will cost us R102.5 billion to clear this backlog by 2012 and will cost us twice as much to clear it by 2016. And we are only talking about the current backlog of 2.4 million. When you factor in the 4% urbanization rate, then you know why I think my job is terribly important. I am right on the edge.

Approximately one third of South Africa’s 12 million households fall within the affordable housing bracket. Research by the Banking Association reveals that in 2005 the shortfall between existing housing stock in this bracket and housing needed was 625 000 units. It is estimated that we need to boost delivery in the affordable bracket to approximately 144 000 per annum (more than 8 times our current rate). By this time Cas Coovadia would have joined me on the edge.

Having given you this backdrop, it is necessary to indicate the other side of the story. We have covered significant ground. As of the end of June 2006, 2 148 658 subsidized houses had been built. We have reached the 2 million houses target and this, it should be noted, is no ordinary achievement. To deliver more than 2 million houses in 12 years ranks among the most outstanding delivery performances anywhere in the world. To gain some perspective it is useful to consider the number of people who benefit directly from the delivery that has occurred. If one assumes an average household size of 3.5 then nearly 7 million people have benefited. It is the equivalent of the combined population of Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Namibia! That’s what we have given in 12 years.

Whilst there are legitimate concerns about the kinds of environments we may be creating via the housing programme, there can be little doubt that this is a very noteworthy achievement. If one also takes into account the fact that the vast majority of the housing delivery has been in the form of "fully-subsidized give-away" housing then it follows that the current government’s commitment to the poor cannot not be questioned. Literally millions of poor people in South Africa now have a housing asset - and it is widely acknowledged today that strategies which improve the access of the poor to assets, considerably reduce their vulnerability. It is hard to find an example anywhere else in the world where the poor are given access to an asset even remotely as sizeable as what is given to people via the housing process in South Africa. If that is not worth crowing about, then I don’t know what is.

In an international context only countries such China and other South East Asian countries can compare. I emphasize we have every reason to be extremely proud. I am certainly very proud of this achievement. And I still think my job is very important!

At this point it is important to indicate that in future we will need to develop approaches for measuring our delivery performance in respect of creating human settlements. If we continue to measure our performance by counting houses only - it is likely that we will continue what we have done in the past. If we make a paradigm shift it follows that what we pat ourselves on the back for would need to be significantly different.

The mandate to eradicate our awesome backlog cannot be achieved through the efforts of the department alone. It is in this regard that the department has mobilized strategic partners and has been actively engaging with different players in the housing industry. There has been notable "buy-in" from stakeholders who have in this period responded to the call for building decent homes, both within and outside of government, and these need to be recognized. There is no doubt that in recent years the private sector has been mobilized, and we will continue our efforts through the Social Contract process.

In the past five years private sector delivery of unsubsidized houses has reached unprecedented heights. Between 2000 and 2004 the average number of housing units produced by the private sector was 40 000. This year alone we expect delivery to peak at 60 000 units – no doubt impressive. A healthy environment within which to recognize all those who have made it possible.

The private sector has in the past five years geared substantial housing delivery capacity. As the market cools in the upper brackets, the robust demand in the affordable sector might receive some attention. This offers developers a soft cushion. The opportunity is there for them to move in this direction. And I hope they will take up this space because together we have a long way to go.

South Africa has on a number of occasions been recognized for ground-breaking policies, innovation and hard work in housing, the most recent one being the UN-Habitat’s international "2006 World Habitat Award for contributions to innovative and sustainable solutions to housing problems" that was awarded to the Johannesburg Housing Company. This shows the company’s competitiveness globally. It has played a tremendous role in delivering affordable housing to the target market in the well situated precincts of inner city Johannesburg through the urban reconstruction program. South Africa has also recently been recognized through the efforts of the housing activist Rose Molokoane who won the UN-Habitat’s Scroll of Honor for her contribution towards housing in the international arena.

We bask in the glory of these international awards that show that we are among the best.

The Govan Mbeki Housing Awards should motivate all stakeholders in the housing industry to harness human and other resources in accelerating housing delivery to improve the lives of millions of poor people by building sustainable human settlements and improving a choice of quality housing opportunities with the tenure. It gives government an opportunity to acknowledge those who have been instrumental in its cause.

In recent years there has been consensus that rapid housing delivery can only be achieved through innovation and flexibility in the housing sector. We have also recently seen a number of our stakeholders responding to this initiative through investing towards investigating the possibility of application of different building technologies and materials that would reduce the cost of building and also the time of construction. This is a worthy cause in view of the ever increasing construction costs which blight housing delivery. Our Eric Molobi innovation hub in Pretoria is a must see, must participate for all of us here.

The South African construction industry is currently experiencing tremendous growth and with the 2010 world cup approaching, the competition for skills and expertise can only amplify. The department needs to ensure that a mechanism to retain the current capacity is established and these awards will definitely contribute towards attracting and retaining necessary skills that will ensure that the department delivers on its mandate and is still in tune with the 2014 national targets and the 2020 international targets. Beyond this the awards should be utilized to encourage more women, historically disadvantaged individuals to participate fully in the housing industry, whilst ensuring better quality housing delivery.

At this point may I take this opportunity to inform all our women developers and builders, next year’s Women Build will have to result in an entire suburb - a complete human settlement built by women, because women can and when they do, they do it with such pizzazz!

I would like to thank the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC) for its tireless work towards making this event successful. Once again I would like to thank all the nominees for their perseverance, commitment and patriotism. I would also like to say to those who are involved in the housing construction industry that I would want the quality of your work and your designs to reflect this beautiful country and this outstanding hero of our time. Your innovative ideas should be able to respond to the continued challenges facing our country.

In conclusion, I must tell you this true story that I read not so long ago. The scene is somewhere in Soweto and even though it sounds like an Alfred Hitchcock story, it really happened.

This guy is on the side of the road hitch-hiking on a very dark night and in the middle of a storm. The night is rolling in and no car goes by. The storm is so strong he can barely see in front of him. Suddenly he sees a car come towards him and stop. The guy, without thinking, gets in the car and closes the door, only to realize that there is nobody behind the wheel. The car starts rolling forward slowly. The guy looks at the road and sees a curve coming his way. Scared, he starts to pray, begging for his life. He is still in shock when, just before he hits the curve, a hand appears through the window and moves the wheel. The guy, paralyzed with terror, watches how the hand appears every time they get to a curve.

Gathering strength, he gets out of the car and runs to the nearest township. Wet and in shock, he goes to a bar and asks for two shots of tequila and starts telling everyone about the horrible experience he went through. A silence envelopes them all when they realize the man is crying and is not drunk.

About half an hour later, two wet and weary men walk into the same bar and one says to the other, "look, Mfwethu, that’s the idiot that got into the car while we were pushing it."

So when the people of South Africa find themselves in this car and there appears to be no driver because I have had my nervous breakdown, they should not worry, because you are there pushing it, and I thank you for that.

Thank you