President Zuma lauds Irish for new homes drive in townships
SOUTH African President Jacob Zuma last night appealed to Irish volunteers to continue their great work in building new homes for his people in the townships.
The president spoke of the special relationship between the two countries and revealed that he intended visiting the next township chosen for new homes when the Irish return again next year.
President Zuma was speaking as hundreds of Irish volunteer workers completed the handover of 140 new houses to families as part of the ninth building "blitz" under the Niall Mellon Township Trust.
Each of the 750 volunteers had to raise up to €5,000 to travel to South Africa to take part in the annual building project to house the shack dwellers of the townships.
As hundreds of local families celebrated moving into their new homes after spending years living in wooden and metal shacks, the president last night described the work of the Irish as "unique" and said their work in the townships was giving "good lessons" to the people of South Africa.
At a private audience at his residence in Cape Town, which was attended by his daughter Nozibusiso and by the township trust founder Niall Mellon, President Zuma said he appreciated Irish efforts to help improve the housing conditions in the South African townships.
"This is a story to be told," he said. "This is a great initiative by the Irish people."
In an exclusive interview with the Irish Independent, the president said he felt there was a special relationship between the two countries.
He said he wanted to encourage Irish people to continue their mission of building homes in his country's townships.
During the meeting, Mr Mellon presented the president with a special T-shirt like those worn by the volunteers during their week of hard work on the building site. He said the garment symbolised the special relationship between Ireland and South Africa.
He told the president that since the project was set up in 2002, 15,000 houses had been built -- a feat described by the president as "very powerful".
The meeting came as hundreds of delighted families were yesterday handed the keys to their new homes in the township of Wallacedene.
Bongiwe Dweza (34), her husband Sipho and their four children were among the first to take ownership.
"I'm very, very excited about moving into my house," said a delighted Bongiwe as she inspected the new bathroom in her two-bedroom home.
The couple's children aged four to 16 have lived all their lives in a one-room shack for the past 12 years, never enjoying running water or an inside toilet. This week she was able to watch as her new home was built within a week just yards from where she has lived in squalor for more than a decade.
It was also a special day for her husband Sipho who joined the blitz team earlier in the week to help build his house.
"I think my only complaint when I move in will be how to get my children out of the bath," said Bongiwe. "For us the fact that we can sleep at night and not worry if a fire will catch hold of our shack and know that my children are safe and their blankets will not be damp from a leaking roof is a dream come true."