Closing address by President Nelson Mandela at the United Nations Habitat II African Housing Ministers Conference, Kempton Park

18 October 1995

Secretary General N'Dow;
Honourable Ministers;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me begin by thanking the United Nations for giving South Africa the opportunity to host this historic gathering. It has been an honour for our new democracy to be able to play this role.

I am informed that you have reached an African consensus on this critical matter, that will be presented at Habitat II in Istanbul next June. I want to complement you on this important achievement.

The world can be divided into those countries where the nation is comfortably housed, and those where housing is part of a daily struggle for survival. Most countries in Africa, including South Africa, fall into the latter category. And this is a reflection of the challenges we face to ensure that our peoples do indeed enjoy a better life.

Our approach to housing in South Africa, as in other parts of Africa, embodies the principle that the government has an important role to play. But it recognises too that government cannot solve the problem on its own. We fully endorse the need for a full and meaningful partnership of government, the private sector and homeless communities.

The very specific challenge that Africa faces is that of poverty; quite simply, most of our people are too poor for a pure market solution to the housing problem.

Yet, chairperson, poverty does not mean hopelessness. The greatest single resource we have in solving this challenge is the energy and creativity of the homeless themselves. It is an energy that can be mobilised in an effective partnership that helps communities to help themselves.

In tackling the task of housing the nation, we are presented with an historic opportunity to fundamentally challenge economic and social relations.

For, housing is not neutral. Our own country has in the past known only too well how the provision and non-provision of housing can be used as a form of social and political control. Here and elsewhere it has often been the means of dealing with the urban and rural poor - to hide them, evict them, harass them and trample on their self-esteem.

As such, a successful housing programme can at one and the same time become a force for economic and social liberation. Built into this, in our situation, are some fundamental requirements.

The first deals with security of tenure. The absence of such security is one of the most consistent reasons for the non-improvement of housing conditions. Granting such security leads to a completely different response from communities.

Another critical issue is that of the provision of credit to people who do not attract the interest of the formal banking sector. One of the most important ways of changing this negative relationship lies in the mobilisation of people's own savings. There are significant initiatives underway in South Africa that are proving the viability of this approach.

A third key issue is one that is often overlooked or even scoffed at. Very simply put: the success of our housing programme - of any housing programme - is directly related to the extent to which women are directly involved. When we talk about people-centred development, we should understand that the involvement of women is often the difference between success and failure.

The last issue I would highlight, as critical to any effective housing programme, or indeed any programme, is good and clean governance. I will return to this matter, topical in South Africa at the moment, at the end of my speech.

Ladies and gentlemen;

It is very difficult to build a democracy when daily living is such a struggle. The reality we face in South Africa is that the housing programme has essentially to be implemented by the poor themselves. The state has a vital role in facilitating and complementing this process. It has a central role in infrastructural development. But by involving the people, we shall not only ensure that they get jobs; but also that they will claim ownership of the process and the final product.

In just a moment, a South African school pupil will read to you an essay which he wrote. David Dladla lives in KwaZulu-Natal, and in his entry for the competition organised by our Department of Housing for World Habitat Day, he speaks of the hopes and dreams of many of our continent's children.

It is our task as leaders to ensure that the dreams of Africa's children become a reality.

Ladies and gentlemen;

Housing as a global issue is also about resources. About the judicious use of the world's natural resources, as well as about their just allocation. Our decisions on these matters determine our living environment and, ultimately, whether we are creating cities or slums.

Africa, as a continent, must play its part in creating a new world vision or shelter at Habitat II. We must recognise that the provision of shelter is a process that can both create and maintain the democratic process.

The Africa delegation that goes to Istanbul must know that they have the most important mandate on this issue.

That mandate comes from the homeless.

You have our full backing; and we wish you every success.


If I may return to the issue of governance.

I have taken note of the Report of the Skweyiya Commission which investigated alleged corruption and malpractices in and by the government of the former Bophuthatswana. It is clear to me that in the past decade or more, corruption and malpractice of the kind dealt with in the Report were not confined to that part of South Africa but were widespread, deriving from the workings of the whole apartheid system which created the homelands.

We need to eradicate corruption throughout South Africa. The kind of plunder of taxpayers' money, corruption, malpractices and dishonesty referred to by the Skweyiya Commission continue to rear their ugly head and must be exposed and dealt with.

Accordingly, and in the firm belief that it is in the national interests to do so, I have decided to appoint a commission under the Commission Act, 1947, to investigate and expose corruption bribery and other forms of malpractices in previous governments in South Africa, including the former homelands. It is my view that we need to establish the whole truth so as to enable the country to break with its past and create and consolidate clean, honest and open government.

I will make a further announcement in this regard after consultation with the Cabinet.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation