Women in Construction: Houses for Women, by Women

Anti-apartheid activist Caroline Dunga concedes that women did not enjoy all the rights enjoyed by their male counterparts during the apartheid years.

“As veterans, we are pleased that things have changed because most women were left out of many things in those days,” she says.

“It was very difficult because when we grew up, we thought men were the dominant factors and we are there for the kitchen and to bear children, not to talk.

“Now when this democracy came in… we had a say also. We had to get out of the kitchen and say something.”

Dunga made the comments during an interview with SAnews recently. Also present in the interview was Human Settlements Deputy Minister Zou Kota-Fredericks who talked about the empowerment programmes aimed at ensuring that women participate in the economy and in the property market in particular.

As South Africa commemorates the 60th anniversary of the historic women’s march to the Union Buildings in the 1950s, the Deputy Minister says the department will build 60 houses through a programme that will see women-owned enterprises laying bricks and leading all the projects.

“We have a housing backlog, particularly because of the struggle…

“So we felt that it was important because in our Department of Human Settlements, we have a unit that deals directly with the empowerment of women.

“So to us, as we are going to August, we will also be building 60 houses for women.

“And we will do that in Port Elizabeth. We will launch [this initiative] in August,” she says.

South Africa’s commemoration of Women’s Month in August is done annually as a tribute to the more than 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women.

Stuggle Stalwarts Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams De Bruyn led that historic march to petition the then Prime Minister JG Strijdom to do away with discriminatory extended pass laws that restricted their freedom of movement.

The Department of Women, which is located in the Presidency, has urged South Africans to reflect on the achievements of these struggle stalwarts by telling their story.

Progress made to empower women

Deputy Minister Kota-Fredericks says a lot of strides have been made to empower women-owned construction companies.

In 2004, the department adopted the Comprehensive Plan for the Development of Integrated Sustainable Human Settlements, also known as the Breaking New Ground.

In essence, Breaking New Ground seeks to reinforce the vision of the Department in the Development of sustainable human settlements and quality housing and by so doing, it promotes the achievement of non-racial and integrated society.

The Deputy Minister says in addition to this, the department has since adopted a programme that focusses on supporting women in human settlements.

The programme addresses access to credit, access to markets, lack of skills and a lack of supportive institutional arrangements.

The objectives of the programme are:

· To support emerging contractors through mentorship and incubator programmes;

· To allocate 30% of housing projects funded through the Human Settlement Development Grant to women-owned contractors; and

· To facilitate the annual implementation of the 1956 housing project during Women’s Month.

The Deputy Minister says the 30% allocation to women projects is not the only programme.

She says the department also has other programmes that assist women across all age groups. This includes bursaries and the Youth Brigade programme, where young women are assisted with character building and skills development.

“We also have a technical capacity development that deals with the professionalization of the sector,” she says.

Honouring struggle heroines

The honouring of the stalwarts of 1956 coincides with the Deputy Minister’s recent memorial lecture of the late struggle stalwart Miranda Ngculu, who was amongst those women who was constantly arrested and detained by apartheid police under Section 29, which restricted the free movement of women.

After being exiled, Ngculu died on 29 June 1994.

“We thought it was important for us as we are marking the 60th anniversary of the march to the Union Buildings, that heroines like [Ngculu] must be remembered by the Department of Human Settlements in particular because this departments deals with social cohesion.

“We are part of the cluster that deals with social cohesion. As we build houses, we must build communities,” the deputy minister said at the lecture.

– SAnews.gov.za