Speech by Minister of Human Settlements Tokyo Sexwale on occasion of Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) and Department of Human Settlements Knowledge Week
20 Oct 2010
The essence of human development is about the realisation of ideas, because ideas by themselves cannot fly.
It is for this reason that any thought, any idea or concept becomes meaningful when it is concretised in the real world.
The challenge of development and forward movement within our society in South Africa lies in providing credible and sustainable solutions to major problems that confront us, chiefly the eradication of poverty in all its forms and the creation of employment opportunities for all able-bodied persons, with the objective of reducing their dependency on the fiscus.
All this must be underpinned by the need for the economy to perform at its most optimum which in our situation, means to achieve sustainable, high economic growth rates to bolster our Gross Domestic Product, which currently is lackluster compared to economies of South Africa’s size.
Our participation as government in this Knowledge Week Summit, with the DBSA as our logical partner of choice, is part of our quest for realisable ideas towards the fulfillment of our mission as the Ministry-Department of Human Settlements.
We have a vision, human settlements 2030 which I will come back to shortly.
Having said so, we wish to emphasise that what we need from this three-day Knowledge Week is good ideas that will enhance our mission of implementing the strategic vision of human settlements 2030.
The concept of human settlements 2030 was introduced to the nation during our budget vote address in April this year.
At the time, just two months before the opening of the FIFA 2010 World Cup, we stated that the target for human settlements ought to be, and I repeat, “nothing less than an enhanced vision, driven by an energy and passion similar to the commitment around World Cup 2010 – this time around human settlements 2030.”
“The potential exists,” we said, “for the whole country to be turned into one large construction site as we build sustainable human settlements in various localities.”
We also emphasised the following, “In crafting our vision for human settlements 2030, we are mindful that a child born today will be 20 years old by 2030, and will need somewhere to live. We should be planning for the needs of that future adult.
“To succeed, human settlements 2030 must be for and by the youth, it is about their own future homes, apartments, bachelor flats and so on; it is about future rural settlements and urban centres, towns and cities. This also contributes to economic growth and job creation. Human settlements 2030 should be the campaign of our young people, for their own future.”
In looking ahead, however, it is important that we are also mindful of our past. In this regard, the foundation of our thinking, of our ideas, is contained in the Freedom Charter, the document of our liberation drafted in 1955, which declared: There shall be houses, security and comfort for all. All people shall have the right to live where they choose, to be decently housed, and to bring up their families in comfort and security. Slums shall be demolished and new suburbs built where all shall have transport, roads, lighting, playing fields, crèches and social centres.
What a vision!
A second important reference point was the adoption of the concept of human settlements by the United Nations habitat conference in Vancouver in 1976.
This meant that strategists and thinkers around the world in the realm of planning had come to realise the importance of avoiding the haphazard location of villages, towns and cities, with an emphasis on special spatial planning hence the adoption of the concept of human settlements at that global conference.
The third important reference point for us in the ministry and the department was the proclamation by the President of the Republic, Jacob Zuma, in his state of the nation address in 2009, when he expanded the mandate of human settlements beyond housing, stating: “As part of social infrastructure development we will provide suitably located and affordable housing and decent human settlements. We will proceed from the understanding that human settlement is not just about building houses. It is about transforming our cities and towns and building cohesive, sustainable and caring communities with closer access to work and social amenities, including sports and recreation facilities.”
This resonates with the Freedom Charter.
Again, our involvement at this summit follows in the footsteps of a series of interactions towards the implementation of our mission for the realisation of our vision.
Amongst the steps taken to concretise our own ideas are the following:
- We interacted with people in informal settlements to obtain their views about the improvement of their conditions
- We engaged with key partners in business and civil society in a plenary session entitled Social Contract Plenary Session, where a common approach was developed around integrated planning and social cohesion
- We exchanged ideas with all the major banks and other key players in the financial sector around the financing of human settlements development, and to ensure the more effective implementation of the Home Loans and Mortgage Disclosure Act, which is a regulatory instrument in the hands of the minister to ensure banks do the right thing in so far as mortgages and loans are concerned
- Recently, we brought together almost 100 innovators designers, manufacturers and inventors at an exhibition on alternative building technologies, where a range of new ideas were presented to us with a view to reducing the costs of construction and introducing new technologies
- Yesterday, as part of enhancing our inner city development, we went to interact with our private sector partners where we jointly fund the reclamation of solid buildings in town and city centres for affordable inner city residential use.
In future, we will be engaging with the construction sector because therein lie many challenges around what can be achieved in respect of our mandate.
We have been working. Not just in some of the high-profile visits and launches which you may have seen in the media, but in a total of more than 8 700 human settlements projects which are underway across the length and breadth of the country.
We have our work cut out for us. Quite how much work can be measured through the delivery agreement which we recently signed with the President and which we will be discussing in more detail with the President on Friday. This agreement sets out a number of objectives for what is termed “Outcome 8”.
The overall objective of Outcome 8 is: Sustainable human settlements and improved quality of household life.
To meet that objective, we have prioritised four areas of work between now and 2014.
- Accelerated delivery of housing opportunities
- Access to basic services
- More efficient land utilisation
- An improved property market.
In the field of housing opportunities, the target is 220 000 units per year between now and 2014.
Additionally, we are acquiring 6 250 hectares of well-located state land for human settlements development and an enabling environment is being created for the provision of 600 000 new loans in the affordable housing sector through the provision of a “gap fund”.
In addition, 500 000 informal settlement dwellings are being upgraded.
The combined effect of this is that by 2014 we will have made significant inroads in our mission of ensuring sustainable human settlements and an improved quality of household life.
As we do so, however, we cannot lose sight of the tremendous challenges facing all of us in the human settlements sector.
The greatest challenge relates to our economy, and in particular the fact that we need high gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates if we are to meaningfully address mass poverty and the unacceptably high rate of unemployment.
Let’s reflect upon the following problem statement: In 1994, at the commencement of Nelson Mandela’s Presidency, we had set ourselves the target for South Africa’s sustainable economic growth rate at not less than six percent per annum to be realised by the year 2000.
This was not, as they say, a thumb suck. It was a scientific figure based on the need to grow the economy at that percentage above the population growth rate. Anything less would not be real growth.
Our current economic growth rate, 16 years since 1994, is hovering below 5 percent to 4.4 percent, to be exact. In real terms, this growth rate, albeit in positive territory, is nevertheless insufficient which implies a growth rate deficit.
In its recently-published country report on South Africa the International Monetary Fund forecast a growth rate of slightly more than 6 percent within the rapidly-developing African economy, which currently – according to the World Bank – is the fastest growing in the world.
During his state visit to the People’s Republic of China which today has become one of the most powerful economies in the world President Jacob Zuma announced that the economic growth rate which South Africa requires should be around 7 percent.
Skeptics believe this could be a bridge too far. It may well be so, if things remain static. Yet several credible economists, who normally don’t easily agree with one another, regard this target as realiable.
Either way, this growth challenge remains at the heart of whatever we may do, or plan to do, in human settlements.
It impacts directly on the fiscus, and on our ability to fund human settlements development particularly given our second major challenge: the housing backlog. Despite commendable efforts by government, the backlog has grown in leaps and bounds from 1.5 million in 1994 to approximately 2.1 million at present. That means approximately 12 million South Africans are still in need of better shelter.
We have, therefore, hardly moved in just breaking the backlog, never mind the numbers associated with population growth.
As a reflection of the increased demand, the number of informal settlements or slums, if we are to give them their correct name has ballooned to more than 2 700. These slums can be regarded as our third major challenge. They are not the creation of government they are, in fact, human parking lots, crammed with people hoping and praying to make it into better housing in the cities.
But they are a reality, a fact of life in what has been termed “the urban century”, when the number of people living in cities will eventually outnumber the number of people living in rural areas.
Our reality is that we are currently only able to clear the housing backlog at a rate of ten percent per annum. With the current pace of delivery and the resources at our disposal, and mindful of continued economic and population growth and the rapid pace of urbanisation, it could take us decades to break the backlog.
There are many other challenges which face us, and which this Knowledge Week cannot afford to ignore. Government needs your ideas, your experience, your knowledge, if we are to succeed.
But we need experience and knowledge which can be translated into action. Already, we have our own panel of advisors, appointed just over a month ago, to channel new ideas and knowledge into the ministry. They are smart people like you, and we look forward to your own ideas making their way into our ministry and department whether you are a practitioner, an academic, a bureaucrat or a researcher.
We have a shopping list of ideas which we are bringing to this forum, in search of your thinking. That list includes questions such as sustainability, urbanisation and spatial development.
What are we saying on these matters?
- What are your views on how we more effectively access, utilise and develop suitable land?
- What advice can you give us on the potential pitfalls of densification?
- What lessons can we learn in terms of the governance of integrated sustainable human settlements?
- What proposals do you have which could inform our attempts to create integrated communities, or which ensure we are able to deracialise society through our efforts? How do we ensure the development of non-racial communities? And how do we begin to normalise the property market?
- What suggestions do you have for how we integrate transport solutions and human settlements solutions, particularly when we build new cities and towns?
- What is the role of the state in future human settlements development? Should we be continuing to provide what are described as “giveaways”, or are there other ways of matching the need with the resources we have at our disposal?
- What ideas are there for redefining norms and standards, and how do we take on board some of the many innovative ideas which are being presented – particularly around the use of renewable energy sources?
Ultimately, how can you help us work smarter?
Again, we could not have chosen a better partner in addressing these challenges than the Development Bank, which has brought you, the experts, here today.
The bank’s role in South Africa’s development is well-known and well-documented. What may not be so well-known are the highly relevant experience, commitment and passion of its chairman, Jabu Moleketi, who served with me as the first MEC for Finance in Gauteng in 1994. My experience then, and my experience since then with Jabu on the Local Organising Committee of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, leaves me in no doubt that we have the best person for the job, and we will continue to lean on the bank for experience and other resources, of course as we move forward to human settlements 2030.
In conclusion: Whatever shape your discussions take over the next three days, two key issues should consistently be borne in mind:
The first is the importance of avoiding disconnect with those who ultimately stand to benefit from your knowledge the people. Remember the phrase, “nothing about us without us”. And remember it well.
The second is the importance of bringing practical solutions to the many challenges we face. We live in the real world, where we need concrete answers and suggestions. There is no time for high-flown ideas. This should be a workshop, not a talk-shop.
If you remain true to those two guiding rules, this three-day engagement will have played a significant role in shaping the trajectory towards human settlements 2030, and you will have a played a meaningful role in shaping the cities and towns in which our children and their children, will live.
I thank you.
Source: Department of Human Settlements
Issued by: Department of Human Settlements
20 Oct 2010
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