Tokyo Sexwale among the shack dwellers

The business mogul, ex-guerilla, ex Premier of Gauteng Province, Tokyo Sexwale spent a night in an informal settlement recently as the South African media has been telling us ad nauseam over the last few days. Sexwale is now the Minister of Human Settlements. This blog-post is not about what a terrible title that is, even though, it never fails to conjure up beings from elsewhere in the universe looking at planet earth and engineering/studying settlement patterns, much like old fashioned anthropologists, I imagine. Very unfortunate choice of name.

Anyway, the Minister’s overnight adventure is quite an oddity as far as I am concerned. I will declare in advance, that sorting out housing must be one of the hardest portfolios of the new democracy for various reasons. First, there are ever growing numbers of people in urban areas, so no matter how many houses you build, more people will arrive maintaining the high demand for houses and other accommodation to be built. Then there is the complicated business of who is in the queue, who should be on the waiting list, who is renting out his RDP house, and so on. That’s before we think other infrastructural challenges like water, electricity and so forth, and that’s before we even really talk about the issues of ownership and displacement of people in rural and peri-urban areas.

I have considerable sympathies for the civil servants in the Housing and Human Settlement departments and units all over the country. Or most of them. But I have bigger sympathies for the people who don’t have homes that allow them to take safety, water, electricity and access to roads for granted.

Sexwale has a tough ministry. But his latest little publicity stunt is nothing short of odd. What exactly does it achieve? Does he have a better understanding of what people have to deal with when they live in informal housing? What is he – the expert now – after spending the night in a mkhukhu? Does that matter to anyone except him? What can he know in one night that he has failed to recognise even as it is common knowledge?

I am not convinced that this is anything more than a publicity stunt because something more sinister has to be going on for me to believe that the Sexwale does not know what a dire situation confronts people who live in shacks, given the consistent coverage that this issue gets in the SA (flawed) media. Has he not been able to listen to the news lately, or read any of the newspapers partly owned by his Mvelaphanda? Ever heard of Abahlali baseMjondolo (aka the Landless People’s Movement) and their very vocal campaigns, including the “no house, no land, no vote” one before the campain? I wonder what would happen if the Minister was “listening” before his overnighter in “a squatter camp” so that he would not need a “listening campaign” to know what everybody who has ever switched on their television set in winter knows about people being burnt alive trying to keep warm with paraffin stoves and heaters/or because candles fell over while someone was asleep or not looking. This is a problem throughout the country as we all know.

Then there is the yearly flooding in the Western Cape winter that is flighted every year, the dumping and scavenging cases in the Eastern Cape next to places where people have erected houses. I hope the Minister’s “listening campaign” will go beyond the showy business of spending the night in an informal settlement to acting on what we all know already.

All this latest stunt does is raise more questions, and suggest that he might be a nice person. Well, for “Tokyo” to be a nice person, which he probably is, is all swell. But elected officials don’t have to be nice people. They just have to be people who act in ways that are consistent with what they say they value.

Here’s to hoping that Minister Sexwale’s ears and eyes are wide open now and that we’ll see many results.

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Posted on 6 August 2009, in Southern African politics, things that suck and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I saw that but kept my thoughts inside. These days,I think im minding my own business, post elections has made to just overlook the news, so I am reduced to the Ostrich mentality (lol)…The news about Tokyo did not touch me at all, I actually got irritated. The current government is trying too hard to show people they are personable (maybe something to separate them from the ex president which they perceived as impersonable. Bheki Cele was appointed on merits that he personally visits the crime scenes and shout at the incompetent police. In my language that is expressed as “inyawo zinodaka” directly translated their feet have mud, meaning they are able to put their personalities for effective service delivery– that doesnt say much as we have more than 100 crime scenes per hour, can they visit 10 per day at least? I doubt. I am not sure what exactly are they willing to achieve:media attention, good names, praise?. As for our president who decided to board SAA just to prove to people he is still human, I cant talk as well. The fact is boarding SAA did not have any economic value, he did not cut costs as his private jet returned empty…for the state president to travel by public transport, is a state risk imagine how much more security was hired just for those two hours

    Sinking my head deeper in the sand again!!!

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