Mashaba: Leadership is about taking tough decisions

City of Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba during an interview on September 14, 2017 in Braamfontein, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Simphiwe Nkwali)

The law is very clear – government subsidised housing is reserved for South Africans. This is the practice the world over and cannot be regarded as xenophobic.

This is a response by the Executive Mayor of the city of Johannesburg to the article in Daily Maverick, ‘Mashaba launches affordable housing – but nor for foreigners’ here.

Often, tough decisions are some of the most unpopular and leaders who dare to take them are met with harsh criticism – most of which is never justified honestly.

But what would be the point of agreeing to assume a position of authority or responsibility if one was likely to run in the opposite direction whenever confronted with the reality of taking a decision that needed to be made, no matter how tough?

This is one of the questions I asked myself when I contemplated running as the DA’s candidate for the position of mayor of the City of Johannesburg.

And it was precisely this question that ultimately led me to agreeing to become the mayor of great city of Johannesburg.

You see, I knew that, were I to agree to take on this massive responsibility of turning around South Africa’s and, indeed, Africa’s most economically important city, I would spend most of my time taking truly difficult decisions.

Throughout my whole life, both personally and as an entrepreneur, I have had to take such decisions.

But if there is one fact I have learned to appreciate throughout the years, it is this: real, meaningful change and progress is often found at the end of the tough decisions we, as leaders, are expected to take.

If we shy away from taking difficult decisions because we fear the repercussions – be they in the form of insults, unflattering labels or accusations of being xenophobic – then we risk not achieving anything at all.

Of course, I am not suggesting that leaders such as myself go out of their way to deliberately be offensive, rude or condescending in order to give off the impression of being decisive.

I am suggesting that, where necessary, we should call a spade a spade.

This thought came to mind as I was reading through an article by Daily Maverickreporter Bheki C Simelane titled Mashaba launched affordable housing – but not for foreigners.

I know that, in the past, critics have sort to paint me as having an agenda against foreigners.

Some have accused me of xenophobia. But I am not xenophobic.

The gist of the Daily Maverickarticle is that I was discriminating against foreign nationals, who may have a legitimate claim to access social housing, by stating that they need not apply for the 525 units at the Turffontein Social Housing project, which we launched on Tuesday morning.

The thing is, the law is very clear on this issue.

Government subsidised housing is reserved for South Africans.

Even the Department of Human Settlements stands with me on this matter.

In a statement last year, the department stated firmly: “The ministry would like to make it clear that all government housing subsidies are reserved for qualifying South Africans only. Foreigners who are legal in the country, like all South Africans who do not qualify for government subsidies, can secure accommodation in the private market through rental or purchase of a property.”

As difficult as it may be to hear, the City of Johannesburg has an obligation to provide housing opportunities to South Africans first.

While the demand for housing is great, the delivery thereof has been underwhelming. The result is a housing backlog that stretches into the millions.

In the City of Johannesburg alone, our housing backlog comprises over 300,000.

As a result of the pressure, we have had to put all our focus on South African citizens, whose interests we will put first. And I do not apologise for this.

This is the practice the world over and cannot be regarded as xenophobic.

But I put it to Daily Maverick reporter, Bheki C Simelane, that his decision to deliberately misconstrue what I said on the occasion of the Turffontein Social Housing project is what actually drives xenophobia. DM