SA to lose another donor
A groundbreaking housing initiative in Masiphumelele was set to go up in smoke on Friday as a foreign donor prepared to withdraw his pledge of several million rand in funding because of bureaucratic delays.
"We had to set a deadline and if we do not get support from Housing MEC Richard Dyantyi (today), I will use the funding elsewhere," said Lord Laidlaw of Rothiemay, who is leaving South Africa for his Monaco home on Saturday.
For the project to retain the R5,5-million committed by Laidlaw, he wants the provincial department of local government and housing to confirm in writing that they fully support the initiative, which would provide brick homes to 1 200 people currently living in shacks.
Laidlaw was due to hold an urgent, last-minute meeting with Dyantyi on Friday morning in a bid to salvage the project.
"I hope it will be a friendly conversation in which the minister will review the situation and say he will get behind it," Laidlaw said on Thursday.
"If he does not pull through after the meeting, I will take the money elsewhere."
Dyantyi said he was confident that the department had given the necessary support to assist in pre-paration of the required application, and added that once he received a complete application for the project, his department would prioritise its assessment.
After "much more than a year" of negotiation between the department and housing NGO Amakhaya Ngoku, which represents the Masiphumelele community, the stamp of approval has not been forthcoming.
"This is my first project in South Africa and I don't know what the problem is," said Laidlaw, one of the richest men in the UK with a fortune estimated at £730-million (about R11,6-billion).
"I am not familiar enough with South Africa to understand quite why this good community-led project did not get more enthusiasm from the provincial government."
Housing department spokesperson Vusi Tshose on Thursday said Amakhaya Ngoku still needed to "package the information for the MEC" and submit a revised formal application.
But Laidlaw said he rejected the housing department's assertion that the delay was because Ama-khaya Ngoku had not provided the necessary documentation, an opinion also held by the NGO.
Laidlaw's contribution will be the second one lost to Masiphumelele after a German donor withdrew a R2,5-million pledge earlier this month.
Meanwhile anti-apartheid activist and Rivonia trialist, professor Denis Goldberg, on Thursday expressed his concern that "the project (could) go down the drain".
Earlier this week, Goldberg, who spent 22 years in prison during the apartheid era, wrote a letter to a daily newspaper to appeal to his "ANC comrades in government (to) make the project happen".
Speaking to the Cape Argus on Thursday, Goldberg appealed to all levels of government to "act in a generous and constructive way".
"Communities and the different levels of government need to work together to make it happen. That is what government ought to be about," he said.
Goldberg said politicians and officials had to "find a way to achieve the purpose of housing people" and see whether there was another way to do things because the housing budget remained "so often underspent".
The Amakhaya Ngoku initiative was started in 2006, after more than a thousand victims of a fire that razed the Masiphumelele settlement organised themselves to found the NGO.
In August 2007, they received conditional subsidy approval from the housing department to build flats for the affected families but were also required to raise R11-million in private donor funding.
Amakhaya Ngoku says for several months, from August until December last year, no administrative progress was made because letters, phone calls and emails to the department went unanswered.
The project also suffered delays due to changes in regulations dictating the size of the housing units.
Around this time donors, who had pledged R12,5m, started to get nervous about building costs, which had escalated from R40m to R53m.
"The donors expected us to move on or they would consider withdrawing," Thembin-kozi Kitchen of Amakhaya Ngoku said this week.
Kitchen says the housing project would not survive more delays, because the temporary relocation site, which has been cleared and will be serviced by the city, will not be there forever.
The fear exists that the land will be invaded when the "next big fire or flood strikes", he added.
"Instead of having uplifted one informal settlement, we will (then) have another huge squatter area."
Dyantyi, however, has accused the NGO of misrepresentation of facts, by informing the city that initial plans had the backing of the province; late submission of documents; and confirming donor funding to the value of only R2,75-million.