Working to turn promises into bricks and mortar
MPUMI Nxumalo-Nhlapo, the new director general in the Department of Housing, has a tough job on her hands.
Not only does she have to ensure government delivers on its commitment to build one million houses by 1999, but she will have to rebuild public confidence in the Housing Ministry in the aftermath of the controversial R190-million Motheo rural housing scheme in Mpumalanga, which claimed her predecessor Billy Cobbett.
Cobbett "resigned" (but he insists he was fired) following his decision to report allegations of procedural irregularities regarding Motheo to the auditor general.
Although she comes in at the end of the Motheo issue (and she declines to comment on it), the findings of the Dreyer Commission into the controversial scheme will have an impact on her department, particularly in so far as procedures are concerned - and she may well be forced to review this.
She is well aware of the difficulties and challenges of her new job, but her advantage is her experience as chief director of housing in Gauteng, a position she held for two-and-a-half -years.
"I am excited about the challenges this new position will afford me and I believe that my hands-on experience in implementing housing policies at a provincial level will be particularly useful," she says.
Nxumalo-Nhlapo is armed with an honours degree in Urban and Regional Planning and a post-graduate degree in Town Planning from the University of Coventry.
She is also certified in Local Government Management and Management Development.
Her work experience includes working for the Coventry City Council, the London Docklands Development Corporation and the London Borough of Southwark.
She plans to be much more hands-on on housing delivery.
"I will continue overseeing policy and its implementation, but to meet the target of a million houses by 1999, we must fast-track the delivery of houses," says Nxumalo-Nhlapo.
According to Housing Department statistics, close to 400 000 subsidy-linked houses were built or are under construction between March 1994 and the end of September this year while over 670 000 subsidies were approved.
Provinces have spent about R1.1-billion of the allotted R2.2-billion for housing in the current financial year and it is expected that nearly the full amount will be spent by the end of the financial year.
All these factors, according to Nxumalo-Nhlapo, have contributed to the upsurge in housing delivery, and she is confident the target of 1-million will be met.
"I am encouraged by the achievements to date. Unless some unprecedented national disaster occurs, the targets will be easily met."
In retrospect she says that setting targets was good in that it forced government to kick-start the housing process and address the estimated 3-million housing backlog.
"The targets helped central government focus and motivated it to jolt the housing process, but post-1999 we must start focusing on product differentiation instead of just numbers.
"The question we should be asking is whether the product is appropriate for the needs of the people.
"The current houses are what can be delivered given the R15 000 subsidies," she says.
Nxumalo-Nhlapo sees emerging contractors playing an important role in the delivery of houses.
"The risks associated with low-cost housing are not appropriate to big developers and so we see a larger role for the emerging sector," she says.
Nxumalo-Nhlapo, who has always been passionate about the housing issue, is an avid reader (mostly of work-related material) and a tennis player.