We will eradicate this bucket system. Give us time. Come to us in six months and ask us about the bucket system, says new minister
New Human Settlements and Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu is probably the most rotated minister in the government at the moment.
She has been minister of intelligence, public service and administration, defence, housing, international relations and now this newly created department.
Now she oversees a huge department with one of the biggest budgets at R50 billion.
For years, the water and sanitation department was in the news for all the wrong reasons with scandal after scandal being exposed in what became known as South Africa’s own Watergate.
Sisulu is taking it all in her stride.
“I always land on my feet and enjoy what I am doing. I give myself up and get on with the work. Whether it was international relations, intelligence, defence, public service and administration, it was all the same.
“You are able to serve when you have the fundamental know how of how the government works and what the polices are.
“Departments are the same. It depends on how you drive them and how much energy you put in. But I have had the same kind of enjoyment in all of them. I did not enjoy international relations better than I enjoyed defence or intelligence,” she said.
However, some who back Sisulu say she was not happy about being moved from international relations, where she served for 14 months, after being appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa following the early removal of Jacob Zuma last February.
But she denies it.
“You get satisfaction from doing the job, whatever it is. It’s like me asking whether you enjoy making coffee or tea. I work 18 hours if need be. What satisfies me is seeing the fruits of the work I put in.”
At international relations, Sisulu attracted both praise and criticism when she spearheaded the move to downgrade the Israeli embassy in South Africa, following a resolution at the ANC’s 2017 elective conference at Nasrec.
She is now back at the department where she first drove the concept of human settlement, shifting it away from housing.
“The very concept of human settlements happened in my time. It’s almost like getting back to something that you were the originator of.”
She cites Cosmo City, northern Johannesburg, as the post-apartheid model city that human settlements is supposed to be as it encompasses high, middle and low properties in a mixed development.
“It is a city that has shown us what is possible with social cohesion,” Sisulu says.
When City Press interviewed her at the St Georges Hotel and Conference Centre in Pretoria, she was in the middle of a departmental planning workshop.
She and the staff are working on a model to align the human settlements and water and sanitation departments.
“We are going to be here on Thursday, Friday, Sunday and Monday. I want to get on top of the situation because we have a Cabinet lekgotla on Wednesday – for me to be able to argue for the necessary resources for the work that needs to be done.”
Sisulu, whose two deputies are David Mahlobo and Pam Tshwete, said it made sense to merge the departments.
“It’s a huge department, but there are the benefits of a closer working relationship. We found that financial benefits are immense for us to be able to build a house without waiting for them to provide bulk infrastructure. If their [departments’] plans are not aligned to our plans, we are then delayed and every delay costs money.”
Sisulu is confident that all the main challenges in the department will be overcome, including financial accountability in water and sanitation and eradicating the bucket system in some communities.
“We will eradicate this bucket system. Give us time. Come to us in six months and ask us about the bucket system,” Sisulu said.
“In Cape Town, along the N2 where there used to be shacks, we said we will build 17 blocks of flats in six months and they thought this woman is crazy. Is she taking marijuana or something? And in six months we had 17 blocks of flats on the N2. Delivery is always key for any government and any political party.”
She is also keen to resolve major issues with water.
This week she is going to intervene in Makhanda municipality (formerly Grahamstown) in the Eastern Cape where the municipality has battled to provide water.
The situation worsened after humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers left the town due to disagreements with the municipality over payments.
“I intend to call Gift of the Givers to find out what the problem was. I will also speak to the mayor. We will be able to solve this Makhanda issue. Gift of the Givers have assisted at my previous department in international relief missions. They have incredible capacity. We should bridge the gap and use all the expertise we have,” said Sisulu.
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