The newly-appointed Minister of Human Settlements, Nomaindia Mfeketo has taken ownership of her role and has hit the ground running. Under her leadership, the department seeks not only to build houses but to work closely with the various stakeholders and key players that are housing South Africans in general, as well as deal swiftly with the matter of land expropriation.
The Minister is determined to marshal and foster collaboration and partnerships with the people of South Africa, especially the homeless, the private sector and civil society, in the delivery of human settlements. “For me, these partnerships must yield the scaling-up delivery and ensure that we contribute to economic development and growth by creating jobs,” she says.
The Minister emphasises the fundamentals of the Department of Human Settlements as breaking away from the Apartheid spatial planning. She asserts that “we must realise our long-fought vision of building non-racial human settlements located in the strategic centres of the economic activities, we can’t continue building black townships located far from the economic cities”. She adds that “continuing with the Apartheid spatial planning is an insult to our people”.
According to the strategic planning of the Department of Human Settlements, “In the coming year, our focus will be to ensure that the goal of achieving the spatially and socio-economically integrated settlements, communities and neighbourhoods is realised. This will be realised through the accelerated implementation of catalytic projects, which are vehicles for spatial restructuring.”
2018, the new dawn
The year of 2018 will last forever in the memories of many South Africans. In a matter of months, the political landscape of our beautiful country was changed drastically, after years of political parties being at each other’s throats over corruption, numerous votes of no confidence and Parliament committees caught up in various parliamentary enquiries. The political period preceding 2018 could best be described in words of Chinua Achebe: “Things fall apart, the centre cannot longer hold anymore.” However, with the decisions taken at the ANC conference to elect a new leader and the subsequent decision to restructure the executive committee, we seem to have found some peace, or a ‘new dawn’ as many have dubbed it.
This new dawn has ushered in a newly-appointed President, Cyril Ramaphosa. This is a man who has a rich history in politics as well as business but more importantly, he has become the shining beacon of hope for many South Africans. His appointment was celebrated across political parties within the country and lauded overseas.
Many hail President Cyril Ramaphosa as the “perfect appointment” and “just what South Africa needs going forward”, according to Mfeketo.
Her faith, trust and admiration for Ramaphosa is evident immediately. But the faith isn’t blind. Many of us who are not in permanent contact with politics or our political history might forget, or not even know, that Ramaphosa is held in very high esteem, not only by colleagues and friends, but by many who find themselves on opposite sides at the voting booths.
One of Ramaphosa’s new appointments is Minister Nomaindia Mfeketo, who has been given the responsibility of human settlements. The confidence of the President in NomaIndia Mfeketo is self-evident in the magnitude and significance of the portfolio she is entrusted with. Mfeketo remarks that “human settlements was at the core of civic and liberation struggles”. She adds that “it breaks my heart every time I see homeless people with no form of shelter, it always pains me to see how our people have resorted to living in backyards. The living conditions in informal settlements are something we cannot be proud of as a nation”.
Politically, Mfeketo has a distinguished career, having previously served as the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Corporation, the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, as well as having served as the Mayor of the City of Cape Town. But Mfeketo has not only thrived politically. Prior to her political career, she was heavily involved in NGOs. Mfeketo remarks that “it is in the NGOs sector where I have thrived doing developmental work for our people. The NGOs back then shaped us as activists who are serving the people and it created a platform to counter the Apartheid government and provide a service to our people.
Mfeketo is delighted to be part of the new dawn under the leadership of President Cyril Ramaphosa. She asserts that “our country, despite what many critics might say, is still very young in terms of being a democratic country. There is no doubt that many issues within the country still need resolving, perhaps they should have been resolved already. Mistakes have been made along the way, and the government will often be the first to admit this. However, while critique is rife within our society, solutions seldom follow”.
The making of our Minister of hope
Mfeketo joined the liberation struggle in her early twenties and she remarks that back then, she never thought she would be able to see and taste the fruits of liberation.
This was due to the inhumanity of the Apartheid system and the terrifying levels of killings and imprisonment of the liberation activists. For a long time, it didn’t seem like it would happen in her lifetime.
There were no accolades in those days, “we fought so that we can be part of the
present and future, we wanted to be equal,” states Mfeketo.
Unlike many others who were part of the struggle, Mfeketo didn’t immediately start a career in politics—in fact, she was very involved with NGOs, which, according to her, equipped her very well for her life in politics.
From 1981 to 1991, she worked for an NGO by the name of Zakhe, the word meaning, ‘build yourself’, before spending a year with Social Change Assistance Trust (SCAT). She then spent a further two years with the Development Action Group (DAG), a public housing project.
During her 10 years with Zakhe, she worked with communities, educating young adults, who would otherwise be jobless, teaching them how to start cooperatives in order for them to better their lives. While part of the motive was for them to be able to make money for themselves, another part was teaching them the democratic process of taking decisions as a collective.
Mfeketo says that this was a “very exciting time in my life because I could see people becoming carpenters and learning a lot of skills that many of them still use today”.
Joining DAG was another “highlight” for her. It is here where one starts to see Mfeketo’s current position as the Minister of Human Settlements as the perfect fit.
“My passion for housing is second to none, but it is not just the housing, or getting people into housing, but rather the planning behind getting the right people into the right housing,” she enthuses.
At DAG, they engaged the then government to assert people’s rights to build their own houses. DAG championed that people be allowed to build their own houses and with much emphasis and focus on “well-located land and to plan your housing development so that it becomes a proper community, not just a bus stop”.
From there, Mfeketo’s political career kicked off at a local government level, where she led negotiations to have the smaller municipalities amalgamate into what is now known as the City of Cape Town.
In 1998, Mfeketo was elected as the Mayor of Cape Town, the fourth woman and the first black woman to achieve this feat.
During her time within the City of Cape Town, both as Mayor and as the Chair of the Executive Committee, Mfeketo had to face many challenges, challenges that are not as prevalent today. As a very young democracy back then, racial tensions were still at a high—many people couldn’t or wouldn’t accept the changes taking place, and seeing a black woman as a leader was something well out of the ordinary.
“But”, she claims, “during the negotiations, we built strong ties with people across colour lines and it was my duty to create unity within the Executive Committee whilst transforming what was happening.”
It was a tough and challenging time, however, Mfeketo chose the route of not
using aggression to win people over but rather, she tried to understand where they are coming from before putting her own version forward, as “you then have the possibility of building”.
She continues, “We built long-lasting relationships with people we would never have thought we would—we might not all be friends but to this day, we look after each other.”
This background has sufficiently prepared Mfeketo to play more strategic roles at the national level. Her ascension into the position of the Deputy Speaker of Parliament came as a natural fit. Again, in this portfolio, she had to play the important role of bringing unity and cohesion among various public elected representatives—a role that required emotional intelligence, political maturity and being people-friendly. Mfeketo endeavoured to serve Parliament and the Constitution of the country in a dignified manner.
Her days at DAG and with the City of Cape Town, including her overall time spent in local government, has surely laid the basis for Mfeketo to hit the ground running and deliver human settlements in a manner and approach that is people-centred.
South Africa and Africa as a whole have performed reasonably well in the government sphere with regards to women’s empowerment. Using Mfeketo’s latest position as an example, since the department’s inception in 1994, there has only been one male Minister, Tokyo Sexwale. The rest have all been female.
According to Mfeketo, this makes sense because “women are generally considered the home builders and have a better understanding of how the household works”.
But as a whole, it is still very much a male-dominated industry.
As a department, they are not just looking at building houses but regulating different sectors that are housing South Africans in general. It is important to make the industry gender sensitive because it has a wide range of benefits, none more so than the fact that ideas and the delivery of these ideas will understand the bulk of the population, opposed to just a portion of it.
Whilst only 29 days (at the time of writing) into her new portfolio, Mfeketo will face very different challenges but going by her history, she is up for it.As an entity, the mandate of the Department of Human Settlements is to ensure that every South African citizen has “access to housing” according to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights—this is perhaps the single biggest problem we face as a country.
The housing situation is beyond poor. While many live comfortably, others have a day-to-day struggle to get basic needs such as water, electricity and working, clean toilets. But Mfeketo goes further to state that, “despite having policy change and being a democratic society for 25 years, we still somehow remain stuck with the idea that the poor must remain on the periphery, far away from transport and other things of necessity”.
But as a matter of fact, in some of the most successful countries around the globe, it is the other way around. Those who can afford to stay in more isolated places because they have the resources, stay there, while the poor who require public services such as transport, stay close to these infrastructures.
While this remains the core mandate of the department, the Department of Human Settlements was only created in 1994 due to the obvious need for it, but as a young department, it also continues to evolve as our society improves and different issues arise.
Mfeketo explains that “upgrading squatter settlements and getting more RDP houses to people is still very much on the agenda,” but there is now also a great focus placed on social housing.
“We also build social housing where people can rent according to their affordability and there is also a portion of rent to buy social housing, with government subsidies covering the rest—at every opportunity, we try to uplift the standards of the people, even in the RDP houses, we are hoping for some development so that one day, they can have a title deed and register their house as an asset,” says Mfeketo.
Land expropriation is the talk of South Africa at the moment. The media is abuzz, the social media mafia has been out in full force since the vote in Parliament and it seems to head up most discussions around the table in many households, but does anyone really know how it is going to be done and how it will affect South Africans?
Calls of us being the next Zimbabwe are not only premature, but simply ridiculous. The seriousness of the matter ensures that it deserves proper discussion and deliberation, but what we don’t need is unnecessary panic. The scare tactics spewed by some in our society, from both sides of the fence, are the root cause of this panic. This has led to some international media coverage, most notably from Australia, whose Minister of Home Affairs has called for easier access to visas for South African farmers.
Regardless of what our individual thoughts on the land expropriation without compensation is or means, the majority of people would agree that something needs to be done. Social media and website comment sections are full of debates on who stole what land, who was here first etc.
While it is dangerous to discuss percentages of land ownership, as it seems to vary from one stat to the next, Mfeketo is emphatic that “the fact remains that we live in a terribly unequal society, a society where some of the population live with relative ease, while others cannot feed themselves seven days a week, let alone three meals a day”.
Mfeketo is strong in her view that it must happen, but says, “The ANC will never allow what we only recently mended (Apartheid), to happen again” in response to the clear dispute of a section of people who believe this is leaning towards reverse Apartheid.
She continues, “This process we are in now is 25 years old, it is a process of building an equal society and we have to find ways to make this vision a reality”.
“In South Africa, we’ve had 25 years of what we call freedom, but if you don’t have economic freedom, it becomes very difficult—my question is, until when are we going to give people free houses, until when are we going to give people grants?
“Now, for me personally, I just cannot accept a situation where 25 years after our liberation, even a person born after 1994, you can’t say that child is born free because of the situation they are born into.
“However, one cannot reach these objectives of an equal society by dividing the nation,” she explains.
South Africa has reached a delicate point, a point that needs to be handled carefully and maturely. Unfortunately, this is not something that has been done thus far, as, for large amounts of people, it has turned into a black vs. white scenario rather than the creation of an equal society. This is due mainly to populists who hog the headlines.
“The first step for me, with regards to land expropriation without compensation, will be to look at the land that is readily available, but not being used—let’s look at the public land.
“Let’s look at the land that is owned by municipalities, by SOEs and other public departments that have land but are not using it properly.
“With those modalities that are being planned, we are able to say, together as South Africans, what is it that we are talking about, and how can we implement it to suit all of us?” says Mfeketo.
There is no one within the ANC who supports the Zimbabwe-style land grabs. That being said, there are political entities who do believe in going that way, or in a similar manner.
Mfeketo is quite clear that this entire process needs to build the country and its citizens, not just a certain group of people. Then, she states, other than the public land, when it comes to privately-owned land, there are many within the country who own large pieces of land and they don’t necessarily make use of the land, they just want to keep it for resale value. But when it comes to the people of this country, land is needed and we all have to make concessions.
“In short, what I am saying is that we will follow the Constitution, our Bill of Rights and the Freedom Charter as we go through this process of land expropriation,” explains Mfeketo.
Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, there are those who have promoted land grabs or at the very least, insinuated it, which has led some people to attempt to grab unoccupied land recently, most notably in Gugulethu, a township in Cape Town. “The irony of that,” states Mfeketo, “is that it is not even well-located land for their housing.
But now, when this decision was taken, young kids of 20 to 23 years of age went out to have a look at every piece of land and put a stick where they would like to claim land because somehow, they were told they could grab land.”
In conclusion, Mfeketo says, “There is an urgent need for the state to develop a programme informing the public about land issues.
“What is very clear on the land issue is that proper communication is required, rather than the rhetoric that we constantly hear about on the news and social media.”
Thabo Owen Mokwena & Ralph Staniforth
Original Article may be located in Leadership Magazine