On the eve of leaving this portfolio in December 2008, Lindiwe Sisulu described her time there as “particularly bruising”. Six years later she seems determined to pick up where she left off.
Her first big test was intervening in the eviction by state roads agency Sanral of about 100 people from the Lwandle informal settlement near Strand in Cape Town in June.
The residents were eventually moved to alternative land, but not before Sisulu’s task team had established the evictions were illegal. She had, however, taken a political gamble by publicly opposing Cabinet colleague Transport Minister Dipuo Peters.
Sisulu faces many of the same challenges she left at the ministry: a backlog of at least 2.3-million houses as well as complaints that many dwellings are of inferior quality. There are also increasing numbers of people who find themselves unable to qualify for free government housing or bank loans.
But she now has a clearly defined strategy, backed up by the National Development Plan, to implement the finance-linked individual subsidy programme.
Sisulu has pledged to build 270 000 houses a year. It is not clear how this ambitious target will be met, which, as she says, “looks impossible, but we have been here before”. She has roped in the youth brigade to build houses.
Sisulu caused outrage when she said no one younger than 40 would receive a free house, but her plan to get young people to help build their own houses could reduce the culture of entitlement. Her challenge will be to ensure that members of the youth brigade are not left to fend for themselves without anywhere to use their skills.
She has threatened to blacklist developers who build shoddy RDP houses. In 2007 she ordered a construction company to fix houses in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape and, although she is yet to hold any contractor publicly accountable, it can only be a matter of time.