Mbeki's arrival at Newtown complex makes...

© Star

By Lee Rondganger and Anna Cox

Tshidi Tau stood on the balcony of her home to try get a glimpse of President Thabo Mbeki.

"I've never met him before. It is so exciting that he is here," she said.

Mbeki officially opened the newly built Brickfields residential development in Newtown, Johannesburg, on Friday, and along with Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa and City of Johannesburg executive mayor Amos Masondo, toured the buildings.

Tau and her two children moved into the flats in early July, which were specifically developed for rental by low- and middle-income earners.

"I was hoping that Nelson Mandela would make a surprise visit because I have not met him either.

"But it is really good to see the president here because it shows us that they are serious about this development," she said.

Brickfields is the largest public/private partnership in residential housing development ever in South Africa, and the first residential development in the inner city in the past 30 years.

The project was built at a cost of R98,7-million and is expected to contribute largely to Newtown growing into a major shopping, entertainment, business, retail and residential hub.

Speaking at the opening of the development, Mbeki said the Brickfields site, which over the years had become a "wasteland", now represented a place of hope.

"The Brickfields housing project is a tangible expression of how the worldwide phenomenon of decaying inner cities can, through sustainable urbanisation, be transformed into peaceful, better havens and friendly neighbourhoods," he said.

One of the obstacles to building a non-racial society, Mbeki added, was housing settlements that were still being built along racial, gender and class divisions.

In addition, Mbeki called on Masondo to urgently address the recent trend of criminals hijacking inner-city buildings.

"I understand that some of these criminals are brazen enough in their criminal activities to the extent that they even resort to murder so as to hijack buildings in order to extort money from our people. I would like the city mayor, working with the police, to attend urgently to this matter," he said.

Johannesburg Housing Company chairperson Murphy Morobe said the launch of Brickfields marked "the end of the beginning of this landmark project".

Brickfields was making an important contribution to the social housing sector in South Africa, for whom it acted as an inspiration.

Hearing Mbeki speak inspired William Mashego, who moved into a one-bedroom unit in the complex on July 1.

"I am a tour guide in Joburg and this inspires me to bring my clients here," he said.