Mthembi-Mahanyele: Unveiling of new name of Dept of Housing's building (07/02/2003)

7th February 2003

Date: 07/02/2003
Source: Ministry of Housing
Title: Mthembi-Mahanyele: Unveiling of new name of Dept of Housing's building


Programme Director
Heads of Institutions
Members of Staff
Ladies and gentlemen

For the past nine years the Department of Housing has been exploring ways of making our services and location more accessible to the people we are serving. On top of our priority list in this regard was the need to identify a figure or an appropriate symbol to which we could attach the work we are involved in. Very few people know where we are located as a Department, yet we are in one of the busiest corners of this city; at a corner of two of the busiest one-way streets, which are also exits to the city of Johannesburg.

We needed to come out of a shell and be visible to our clients and all the people who might need our services. The most important thing to do was that of renaming the building as a way of expressing a collective consensus, which would encourage all employees in this building and society in general to begin to own what is good in our history and reject that which divided and hurt us as a people. We ought to all feel that we want to pen a statement on this new chapter opened by a democratic dispensation. The new name affords us that and allows us to embrace progress and development. For that we needed a relevant, a visible and an identifiable image related to the services performed to the public as well as a symbol we could all be proud of.

You will realise that the fact that it took so long to name this building makes it clear that it was not easy to select a figure symbol for our offices. I am delighted that no matter how difficult this process might have been, we finally identified a suitable name that would best identify with the poor, the homeless and the critical task that is performed by this Department. I therefore want us to celebrate for we have finally managed to come up with a credible identity for our offices today.

The Department of Housing's central theme is "Housing the Nation" and I must hasten to say that although we spent some time searching for a name for our offices, we have, however, lived up to our theme. My Department has worked tirelessly to try and house the poor in decent and sustainable human settlements. Nothing deterred us from giving shelter and secures tenure to eight million people who had never experienced a decent and safe roof over their heads before.

I am therefore pleased to announce that henceforth the name for our building will be concise and palpable and make our offices accessible, identifiable, respectable and also credible. Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to announce that this building, from which the policy and programme which delivered no less than 1, 45 million houses to the poor, will be known as the Govan Mbeki Building.

I trust that this is a well-chosen name, not due to his relationship with our President, but because we all know that Mr Govan Mbeki's philosophy emphasised the need for basic, decent and acceptable quality of life for all the people in the country, particularly the poor. During his lifetime, he supported the Department of Housing's mandate of creating a viable and conducive environment for our nation to move out of the trappings of poverty.

We have chosen the name, Govan Mbeki, by virtue of the contribution this outstanding individual made in the South African struggle, as most appropriate. Throughout his entire life he committed himself to serving the poor. Honouring this South African struggle hero by naming the Department's offices after him will preserve his philosophy and give the poor an appropriate symbol that they can identify with, and give our Department the statue of an institution serving the nation's homeless.

Oom Gov, as he was affectionately known, is one of those heroes who have fought hard for the betterment of the lives of the majority of the people of this country. He was a revolutionary, an educator, a publicist, an organiser and a leader of our people over many decades. He was a man who brought with him the rare qualities of selflessness and utter devotion to the cause of the oppressed and exploited of our country.

Born and bred in the rural Transkei some 92 years ago, he contradicted the prevalent stereotypes of assuming that only a certain class and background produces good leaders. He emerged from a poverty-stricken background to lead the struggle for the emancipation of the most marginalised in society. He left a legacy that continues to remind us that the poor need a better life and that the poor, if supported, participate in improving their conditions. You will agree with me that by spending the better part of his early life in the rural Transkei, he came to acquire first-hand knowledge of the conditions and problems facing the majority of small peasants, landless and homeless in the area, a phenomenon, which was to be found in most parts of South Africa at the time.

Oom Gov was among those who, early on, recognised the power of the written word, as well as that of action by the people in the liberation struggle. He possessed a sharp, critical mind; he had a literary ability, which was capable of translating the reality of apartheid South Africa in its social, political, economic and other facets in the written word. In the process, he conscientised our masses and helped catalyse the struggle for emancipation in South Africa.

Among the actions he will always be remembered with is his involvement in one of the fiercest of confrontations between the oppressor and the oppressed in South Africa, which took place between 1956 and 1960. The epic of the heroic resistance and violent confrontation is to be found in many of his literary works, including his book: " South Africa: The Peasants' Revolt". The book, which was begun on rolls of toilet paper and smuggled out of prison while he was awaiting trial under the Explosives Act, earned him international recognition and an honorary doctorate of social science from the University of Amsterdam.

In this book, Oom Gov demonstrated how the so-called helpless and vulnerable can be a determining force in our society. In his concluding remarks in this book he stated, and I quote:

"The peasants have demonstrated to the movement in practice what it had always preached in theory, namely, impoverished peasantry, many of them semi-proletarians, constituted a revolutionary force of immense potential, once organised." Close quote.

Those who are involved in our projects such as the People's Housing Process know what I'm talking about and will agree with me that these words were like a prophecy to the work we are doing today. In housing, we believe, as Oom Gov believed, that there is no person, no matter how poor, who is helpless. We have in the past nine years seen many individuals and communities rising up to face head-on the plight of poverty and helping themselves fight for the betterment of their lives.

I could spend the whole day explaining his involvement in the struggle, especially the underground structures of the African National Congress. Let me sum up, though, by saying that Oom Gov was one of those leaders who would never surrender their noble goals, no matter how difficult the course might be.

When the limits of peaceful, non-violent struggle were exhausted and the decision taken to continue the political struggle using all means available, including armed struggle, Oom Gov became one of the key figures of the underground leadership. It was in this capacity that he was arrested at Rivonia and later sentenced to life-imprisonment with the likes of former President Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Elias Motsoaledi, Ahmed Kathrada, Denis Goldberg, Raymond Mhlaba and Andrew Mhlangeni.

As you already know, he is not being honoured for the first time today. Twenty-two years ago the then Secretary-General of the Africa National Congress, Alfred Nzo, announced the conferring of the honoured title of Isithwalandwe on Oom Gov. He was not present to receive the highest honour that his people and his movement wished to bestow on him, because he was serving a life-imprisonment sentence on Robben Island. Sadly too, he is not with us today to witness this honour, because he passed away in 2001.

Lastly ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to use this name with pride. What happens inside this House should not be contradictory to what the name that has been inscripted outside stood for? Let us all respect the principles that Oom Gov stood for and continue to work for the betterment of the lives of the poor.

I thank you.

Issued by Ministry of Housing
7 February 2003