A celebration of homes

2004-04-26 15:58
Soweto - Beki Masuku grew up in Soweto, first sharing a four bedroomed communal home and an outside pit for a toilet with 20 relatives - then sharing a garage with his mother in the sprawling township southwest of Johannesburg.

Ten years after apartheid ended, Masuku's life has changed for the better.

He has become one of some 1.5 million poor people who have been given a home, running water, a flush toilet and electricity by the government of the African National Congress (ANC).

Today, the 32-year-old building contractor has a modest brick house in the sprawling new northern Sowetan suburb of Bram Fischer - named after the anti-apartheid lawyer who defended Nelson Mandela and other struggle leaders during the 1950s treason trial.

It's a far cry from the days when Masuku struggled to complete his studies by candlelight, while his mom and three of his aunts bedded down for the night in the same room.

"Having my own home makes me feel human," Masuku said. "It gives back the dignity taken away from me by apartheid."

Little did Masuku know in 1999, when he started working on a housing contract in Bram Fischer that he was actually building his own home.

A dream home

He registered on a government list in 1996, paid R100 as well as R150 electricity connection fee. The rest of the home, when he got in in May 1999, was provided by the government.

"You know, you dream about owning your own home. When they told me that I was to get a house in the very project I was working on, I almost couldn't believe my ears," he said. He proudly shows visitors around the a small two-roomed building with a bathroom and toilet, a sink with a tap and in the corner - a microwave oven. "Before when you wanted to boil some water, you had to start a fire in the back yard. Today, I walk to the microwave and pop in a cup." Outside, there's a bed filled with numerous flowers like carnations and daisies, and a small but well-tended lawn, where his 15-year-old son Thulani is kicking around a soccer ball. In the run-up to the first democratic elections in 1994, the ANC promised to build a million houses within the first five years of coming to power and won with an overwhelming margin.

Although it's taken the former liberation movement-turned-political party almost twice the time to achieve that goal, millions of others including those still living in "informal housing", a euphemism for squatter shacks, have been provided with nearby taps and electricity.

Energy Affairs Minister Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka last month said some five million households have been powered up with electricity since 1995 at a cost of around R12bn.

More than nine million people have been given access to clean water since 1994, President Thabo Mbeki said in his opening speech in parliament in February.

Challenges remain

But even South Africa's first citizen concedes that many challenges still remain.

"There are still many of our people who live in shacks and others who have no access to clean water, proper sanitation and electricity," Mbeki said.

"Imbalances and inequalities that impact on fellow citizens on the basis of race, gender and geographical dispersal continue to persist."

Last year, outgoing Housing Minister Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele admitted that there were still some 7.35 million people without proper housing.

Government housing schemes have also been plagued by other problems like the illegal occupation by both South Africans - who have not put their names on government housing lists - or illegal immigrants and poor quality of workmanship.

"Some of these homes would just start to crack up completely," Mike Mahase, a spokesperson for the central Gauteng provincial housing ministry, said.

But for those who finally get to own a home of their own for the first time, like 69-year-old Emily Moeti, it was well worth the average wait of between three to six years.

"When I die, at least I will have the dignity to be taken straight from a home I have called my own to the graveyard," said Moeti.

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