"You're hired!" Zuma tells Sexwale

Now go out and solve the housing crisis, Tokyo. Details, analysis about duo facing up to South Africa’s biggest property problem.

South Africans will have to get used to the term the Department of Human Settlements formerly known as the Department of Housing and its new Minister Tokyo Sexwale.

Sexwale was sworn into President Jacob Zuma's cabinet on Sunday and is tasked with taking a holistic approach to dealing with housing issues in South Africa.

His deputy, Zou Kota has been a Member of Parliament (MP) since 1994 and chairperson of the Housing Portfolio Committee. Her experience with the complex arena of housing should be useful to former businessman Sexwale even if the committee has at times underperformed. In the last parliamentary session, the committee refused to take part blame for the xenophobic violence that broke out in South Africa in May 2008. In a survey of affected areas by the Human Sciences Research Council, many respondents said competition for housing and the perception that foreigners were "jumping the queue" had sparked violence in some areas.

Sexwale was a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the African National Congress (ANC) prior to his appointment and was formerly the Premier of Gauteng. He spent many years on Robben Island after being captured carrying out military activities as a commander of the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto weSizwe.

Human Settlements is a broad concept and entails that houses should be built closer to where people can have easy access to basic amenities. The Minister will have to work creatively to find ways of building sustainable settlements and also empower recipients to look after those settlements as part of building their own communities, said one Realestateweb reader.

Government has committed itself to ridding the country of shacks and informal settlement areas, a phenomenon that sprung up largely in the post-1994 period. Some NGOs and university think tanks, however, argue that these areas should be upgraded rather than demolished.

The reality is that informal settlements are growing, the influx of slums resulting from the rapid rate of urbanisation and migration. Plans need to put in place to the supply of housing stock match demand for housing, he said.

Realestateweb.co.za spoke to Sexwale's spokesperson, Chris Vick, who said Minister Sexwale had just started and was still too early to comment on his plans and priorities with the human settlements portfolio.

Sexwale's business interests in the construction sector came under scrutiny following his appointment to cabinet on Sunday. Sexwale announced within two days that he would resign as executive chairman of Mvelaphanda Group Ltd (JSE: MVG) and would not sit on any company board.

One wonders if Sexwale, host of the 2005 first South African version of reality game show, The Apprentice will use similar business tactics to increase housing delivery and reduce backlogs.

Joe Mavuso, political analyst at the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa), said it was still too early to tell whether he would outperform his predecessor Lindiwe Sisulu. However, his track record is impressive.

He proved capable and popular as the Gauteng Premier from 1994 to 1998 and his experience in the private sector should prove invaluable, said Mavuso.

Mavuso said one of the most pressing issues Sexwale will need to look into is the housing backlogs that have been an issue of concern since 1994. Back then, Joe Slovo, Nelson Mandela's first minister of housing, promised a million houses would be built in the first year of the democratic government. Things move much more slowly than that, as Slovo soon realised and as Sexwale will come to understand as he gets his bearings in the new portfolio.

Kruger International economist Ulrich Joubert told Realestateweb.co.za the housing sector could use a new vision which will ensure quality houses are built and also implement cost efficient policies in the housing market.

Ordinary people will no doubt be hoping not only that the housing backlog is addressed more rapidly, but that the corruption evident both in the construction and allocation of houses will be rooted out.

In March, Realestateweb.co.za reported on wide-spread corruption and fraud within the department of housing. Lawyers and government employees were implicated in corruption and fraud uncovered by the Special Investigation Unit. The then department of housing said this was a tip of the iceberg and plans were underway to tackle other corrupt elements within the housing sector.

There are hopes, too, that Sexwale will come up with innovative ways of using new building materials to keep state houses cost effective.

Housing is a complex, difficult but hugely important area in South Africa's post-democratic life. Success could mean greater things for Sexwale including, as a few analysts have been suggesting for some years, his eventual accession to the highest office in the land. Underperformance and failure, however, might mean Sexwale will hear the words that made him famous as a television personality in South Africa: "You're fired!".

Article by: www.realestateweb.co.za