Hope for uMsinga residents

Monday, April 11, 2011

Durban - After spending many years cramped in a shack with 19 other family members, Thembeni Phungula's struggle with poverty will soon end. She and her family are looking forward to moving into a new house and beginning a new chapter in their lives. 

Phungula has lived in a shack in uMsinga with her children and grandchildren for almost all their lives.
But one of the granddaughters used her stipend from her internship with the Department of Labour to build the family a rondavel, which was better than the shack but still not big enough for the family.

The RDP house the family will occupy shortly has a kitchen, bathroom, and four bedrooms. The new house is among many that are being built by a group of local businessmen around KwaZulu-Natal. 

They heeded KZN MEC for Social Development Meshack Radebe's call to help change lives in this area. 

One of the granddaughters, Zama, who takes on any temporary work to bring in some income says, "I am too happy about this new house, I know it will make our lives better."

The Phungula family make up the 160 000 people that live in uMsinga, a local municipality established almost 11 years ago, and falls under the uMzinyathi District Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal.

Poverty plagues this rural area and many other families experience life like the Phungulas. According to the municipality, over 45 percent of the economically active population is unemployed. Many of these people are involved in informal and subsistence activities, but they remain very poor.

uMsinga fell under government's spotlight recently when Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe visited the area as part of government's War on Poverty Campaign.

Motlanthe, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize, together with national and provincial leaders chatted to Thembeni and other families about their struggles.

Several families told government leaders they wanted water accessibility, electricity facilities and help to get proper identification.

Some of the families didn't have IDs to allow them to collect social grants, while others are suspected to have documents which inaccurately portray their ages.

While government acknowledged that the backlog in service delivery in these areas in uMsinga persists, over 4 200 houses have had solar systems installed. A further 820 homes are expected to receive electricity.

However one government official told the community that it is up to them to save electricity because this will allow others to be able to receive this service quicker. During the visits, it was noticed that some homes and businesses still had their lights switched on during the day.

The National Department of Water Affairs said priority will be given to a project that will see more pipes being built to reach villages in this financial year.

Some of the houses visited had food gardens which was a promising sign but in order for this to progress, water has to be made available to the people.

Meanwhile, the Department of Public Works will rebuild or refurbish two schools in the area that will be chosen by the regional leadership.

Currently more than 68 percent of the population is illiterate; schools in the villages exist in very poor conditions. Poverty also means that the school dropout rates are greatly impacted on. There are also no tertiary education facilities with the nearest being in Greytown and Ladysmith.

Minister for Public Works Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde said work on the selected schools will begin next week.

She also extended an invitation to 100 youth to complete a learnership programme with her department.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan noted that there is potential for economic growth in Msinga.
Gordhan, who with his team, visited two families both headed by women, said there is potential for economy activity such as using the available rocks to build homes. Also, there are no crSches in the areas which means a possible business opportunity does exist here.

Giving back

While government continues with their efforts to speed up service delivery, the likes of businessmen Ismail Dhai and Sydney Pandaram continue to help build houses to assist the poor.

Both Dhai and Pandaram feel that Radebe's vision to change lives in KwaZulu-Natal meet their desire to give back.

"We were approached by the Honourable Minister Radebe and he has a knack for not taking no for an answer," jokes Dhai when asked about his involvement in building houses.

He says that between R450 000 to R500 000 will be spent on the houses.

"This forms part of my social responsibility and this is why I do it. We are now busy with a house in Sweet Waters in Pietermaritzburg," explains Dhai.

Pandaram, who grew up in poverty, said he understands what it means to have a house because that didn't come easy to his family. He has contributed to the building of twenty houses thus far around the province.

"We identify the needs of the family and make donations so that these houses can be built. Last year we handed over one with President Jacob Zuma near Hillcrest where a family of 19 needed a new home. They only had a kitchen and room to survive in," Pandaram says.

"I grew up in a Christian home where giving was important. So it makes me feel very good to be able to give back to the less fortunate. We have also helped build churches for poor communities and distributed bibles to people who can't afford them."

Mandla Ngema, spokesperson for MEC Radebe, says the department appreciates the effort made by the business sector for their support in improving lives.

"Dr Radebe is the first and last at disaster scenes and he knows how desperate some situations are. It is much appreciated that the business sector can help the poorest of the poor, and those in delicate and terrible situations," says Ngema. -BuaNews