Sunday Times

Swanky Cape pads for min­is­ters at R1,200 rent

And di­rec­tors-gen­eral will pay just R75 to live it up in lux­ury at tax­pay­ers’ ex­pense

- By PHILANI NOMBEMBE

● Cabinet min­is­ters will pay just R1,200 a month to live in lav­ishly ren­o­vated mul­ti­mil­lion-rand apart­ments in Cape Town, which ex­perts have crit­i­cised as waste­ful and a slap in the face for tax­pay­ers buck­ling un­der fuel price hikes and a spi­ralling cost of liv­ing.

Res­i­dents will en­joy top-qual­ity im­ported fin­ishes, a lap pool and breath­tak­ing moun­tain views for a frac­tion of the cost of even the hum­blest stu­dent room in the sub­urb of Rose­bank, the long-term home of Western Cape premier He­len Zille.

The block of 29 flats was handed over by builders this month af­ter a R100m-plus twoyear ren­o­va­tion. The flats will house min­is­ters, their deputies and se­nior of­fi­cials, with di­rec­tors-gen­eral set to pay just R75 a month in rent.

On av­er­age, the 29 flats were ren­o­vated for R3.6m each, and pho­tographs posted on the web­site of ar­chi­tects Ngonyama Ok­panum & As­so­ci­ates show sleek fin­ishes in­clud­ing bam­boo floors, frame­less show­ers and ex­posed-brick walls.

Ac­cord­ing to the de­part­ment of pub­lic works, the ren­o­va­tions cost R103m, but spokesper­son Thami Mchunu said: “We are still busy with the fi­nal ac­count.”

Mchunu told the Sun­day Times the 29 flats, most of which have two bed­rooms, were “pri­mary res­i­dences for the di­rec­tors­gen­eral. If min­is­ters or deputy min­is­ters are ac­com­mo­dated here, they are also en­ti­tled to an­other res­i­dence in Pre­to­ria.”

Min­is­ters, who earn R200,000 a month, would pay R1,200.82 to rent one of the flats, deputies earn­ing R165,000 would be charged R988.90 and di­rec­tors-gen­eral R75.

Prop­erty an­a­lyst Er­win Rode said the de­part­ment had over­cap­i­talised on the ren­o­va­tions. “That’s a lot of money, un­less you want to in­stall gold-plated toi­let seats and gold taps,” he said.

“You don’t use that kind of money un­less you are the Queen of Eng­land. Prima fa­cie, it looks waste­ful. The ques­tion is whether there is some­thing be­hind the waste­ful ex­pen­di­ture.”

Two build­ing in­dus­try ex­perts echoed Rode’s sen­ti­ments. They said the gov­ern­ment could eas­ily have used more af­ford­able, lo­cally man­u­fac­tured ma­te­ri­als.

The ex­perts, who re­quested anonymity be­cause they do busi­ness with the gov­ern­ment, said Hu­laBond ex­te­rior cladding, which cost R4m, and win­dows with a quoted price of R9m (R310,000 a flat), were un­nec­es­sary.

The Mar­moran paint on the ex­te­rior of the build­ing, Rygers­dal, cost more than R2m and was “only vis­i­ble within 20m of the build­ing”. It cost 30% more than “nor­mal paint”, they said.

Cape Town mayor Pa­tri­cia de Lille de­scribed the level of the ren­o­va­tion and the bar­gain-base­ment rentals as “ridicu­lous”, point­ing out that City of Cape Town em­ploy­ees who live in coun­cil prop­erty pay mar­ke­tre­lated rentals.

“When peo­ple don’t pay for them­selves, they go for the most ex­pen­sive,” said De Lille. “This is not their money, it is the tax­pay­ers’ money. There is ab­so­lutely no mod­esty here, con­sid­er­ing how many houses could have been built with that money.”

Dur­ing her term as mayor, which ends on Oc­to­ber 31, De Lille has pri­ori­tised the re­ver­sal of apartheid spa­tial plan­ning by en­cour-

ag­ing the pro­vi­sion of af­ford­able hous­ing in cen­tral ar­eas, but, she said, gov­ern­ment de­part­ments had re­fused to help.

“These state-owned build­ings should be used to bring about af­ford­abil­ity and in­te­gra­tion,” she told the Sun­day Times.

“I have writ­ten open let­ters to for­mer pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, urg­ing him to en­gage with pub­lic works to re­lease land for af­ford­able hous­ing in the city. They don’t want to re­lease the land. In­te­gra­tion will not hap­pen through the mar­ket, it can only hap­pen if we use pub­licly owned land.”

Michael Holen­stein, spokesper­son for the Or­gan­i­sa­tion Un­do­ing Tax Abuse, said the pub­lic-spend­ing watch­dog was con­sid­er­ing in­ves­ti­gat­ing what he termed an abuse of tax­pay­ers’ money.

“You’ve got a gov­ern­ment that is not com­ing up with some kind of fi­nan­cial strat­egy or re­cov­ery plan for the econ­omy of SA, but here they are spend­ing tax­pay­ers’ money [on them­selves],” said Holen­stein.

“If you are go­ing to pay R75 for an apart­ment that is worth R4m in the open mar­ket, that is tan­ta­mount to cor­rup­tion and fraud.”

Po­lit­i­cal econ­o­mist and an­a­lyst Zamikhaya Maseti said gov­ern­ment in­fra­struc­ture such as Rygers­dal should be ex­pro­pri­ated with­out com­pen­sa­tion and con­verted into af­ford­able rentals for young peo­ple.

“The di­rec­tors-gen­eral and min­is­ters have got fringe ben­e­fits which can be used for what­ever ac­com­mo­da­tion needs they have. Stu­dents are strug­gling with high rentals in and around Cape Town,” he said. “You can’t stim­u­late the econ­omy if you are com­ing up with such ridicu­lous prac­tices.”

DA MP and deputy fi­nance spokesper­son Al­fred Lees said the ren­o­va­tions in­volved un­for­giv­able ex­trav­a­gance.

“From a fi­nan­cial point of view, it is ex­ces­sive that this kind of money has been spent on ac­com­mo­da­tion for the di­rec­tors-gen­eral and min­is­ters at a time when the econ­omy is in such a bad state,” he said.

Mchunu said that af­ter a num­ber of com­pa­nies had sub­mit­ted quotes, the con­trac­tor ap­pointed Amer­i­can Shut­ters to sup­ply shut­ters that were made lo­cally for more than R700,000. “Only sin­gle com­po­nents of the shut­ters, the flush slid­ing bolts, were im­ported be­cause there was not a com­pa­ra­ble prod­uct in SA,” he said.

Im­ported En­vi­rodeck com­pos­ite deck­ing was sourced from a lo­cal com­pany. Mchunu said: “It is im­por­tant to note that there is no lo­cal man­u­fac­turer for this ma­te­rial.”

Main­te­nance-free Hu­laBond cladding was cho­sen be­cause Rygers­dal was a “re­cy­cled” build­ing. “We re­quired a light­weight ma­te­rial to achieve the di­vi­sions and screen­ing be­tween apart­ments on the façade of the build­ing.”

Mchunu de­fended the use of balau for “ex­ter­nal nat­u­ral tim­ber slat­ted screens”. He said the wood, from Malaysia, was renowned for re­quir­ing lit­tle main­te­nance.

“Fin­ishes were cho­sen to be low on main­te­nance, hard-wear­ing and ver­sa­tile,” he said. “It is im­por­tant to note that the build­ing was de­signed with a long term of over 30 years’ life cy­cle pro­jec­tion, there­fore, where pos­si­ble, the lat­est high-qual­ity prod­ucts had to be used to re­duce risk of early re­dun­dancy or need to fur­ther up­grade in the short to medium term.”

A “good bal­ance was achieved be­tween lo­cal prod­ucts and im­ported prod­ucts”.

Ap­proached for com­ment, Ngonyama Ok­panum di­rec­tor Ham­mond Den­dere said: “I can’t dis­close any­thing with­out be­ing au­tho­rised. ”

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 ?? Pic­ture: Supplied ?? The Rygers­dal apart­ment block in Rose­bank, Cape Town.
Pic­ture: Supplied The Rygers­dal apart­ment block in Rose­bank, Cape Town.
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