Matchbox-house revolution is needed for Soweto

17 July 2008 - 02:00
By unknown

What's the ugliest thing about Soweto?

What's the ugliest thing about Soweto?

Sowetan's stablemate Sunday Times posed this question to respected businessman Richard Maponya during a recent interview.

Responding, Maponya hit the nail on the head.

"The fact that 14 years into democracy, we haven't seen matchbox housing revolutionised," Maponya said.

He was, of course, confining himself to the country's largest township. The interview was specifically about him and Soweto, his erstwhile home and where he ploughed millions into putting up the impressive Maponya Mall.

I can only wish he had expanded on his matchbox-houses revolution. You see, matchbox houses were part of the grand apartheid design for blacks.

The townships were created to house mainly black labourers who worked in mines and other industries in the cities, away from the city centre.

The inner city was later to be reserved for whites as the policy of segregation took root.

In the 1950s, more black people were relocated from areas such as Sophiatown, in Johannesburg, and District Six in Cape Town, under the Group Areas Act. The cities were declared white areas, with blacks allowed there as labourers.

Matchbox houses were ugly, cold and cramped structures which invariably replaced proper homes, which people were forced, with the aid of bulldozers and facing the barrels of guns, to vacate.

This meant township dwellers had to make do with the acquired bad conditions and housing. They had to be creative and grow to love their environment.

Back to Maponya and the matchbox homes revolution. When it came to power, our own democratically-elected government promised to build five million houses in five years.

The housing ministry has more than once said this target was being met. If so, why does Maponya lament the lack of movement to eradicate the pondokkies?

The government gave people RDP houses. By the way, RDP stands for Reconstruction and Development Programme. But the RDP houses are even smaller than the original matchbox houses. Many recipients complain that even their beds cannot fit in the rooms.

Some even call them "smarties", after the popular sweets, because of their rainbow colours and size.

I wish Maponya could suggest or even advise the government on how to embark on this revolution.

Yes, he can. I know he can. As US presidential hopeful Barack Obama said: "Yes, we can. Yes, we can change. Yes, we can."

Why do I sound like a cheerleader? I'll tell you.

Maponya rose to where he is because he knew where he was going. Did you know that he used Nelson Mandela's and Oliver Tambo's legal firm, which was the first black-owned, to get a licence to own a shop in Soweto.

"I opened a dairy. Me and about 100 of my staff delivered milk on bicycles. I expanded my business and wound up having 10 supermarkets in Soweto."

Now, how about that? I wish Maponya would speak to someone in power about the matchbox-housing revolution.