Cape Town – Patricia de Lille says her appointment as the new minister of public works and infrastructure is a “great opportunity” to address spatial justice in all towns and cities across South Africa.
She said she would work with all three spheres of government to ensure that public land is used for public good and to reverse apartheid’s spatial planning.
De Lille was speaking shortly after a whirlwind week in Pretoria.
The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure is the custodian of all fixed property the state owns – including land and buildings that legislation does not hold another department or institution responsible for.
“While it is difficult to say exactly what my key focus areas will be at this stage, spatial justice is right up there,” said De Lille.
The minister said she met the director-general in her department yesterday afternoon and was still to meet with her predecessor, Thulas Nxesi, to get to grips with her new role.
De Lille has always been outspoken about spatial justice and started a campaign while she was the mayor of Cape Town to release pockets of state-owned land for low-cost housing.
“I know what the value of the land is and this is why, at that time, I wrote an open letter to then-president Jacob Zuma asking for the land to be released,” she said.
The minister lamented that many poor people spend the bulk of their salaries on transport costs because they live far from where they work.
“Engagement must take place. We must swop well-located land for housing opportunities so that people can have better lives and so this talk of a better life for all can become a reality.”
De Lille said when she was the mayor of Cape Town she had been of the belief that available state-owned land must be used to bring people closer to the cities and work opportunities.
“We must make the land available. I believe this was and is the right thing to do. I think, now that I am the minister, this might be easier to achieve than when I was the mayor.”
She said she had not heard from Western Cape premier Alan Winde, despite him announcing that he was keen to talk to her about land in Ysterplaat, Wingfield, Youngsfield, Culemborg and Denel which could be used for low-income housing.
“I am committed to working with everyone, including Premier Winde,” she said.
De Lille dismissed suggestions that her appointment was part of a strategic plan by President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC to regain control of the Western Cape.
“That is rubbish. The DA messed up in the Western Cape. I have won court cases against them. They must leave me alone. I am focused on building an inclusive country. I don’t care about people’s opinions,” said De Lille.
As for her Good party, she said it would continue to build good structures across South Africa.
She said she was “overwhelmed” by her inclusion in the Cabinet and that everything was just beginning to sink in.
“I received a call from the president on Wednesday at 2.30pm and he asked me if I could come see him urgently.
“I had no idea what was waiting for me. I only saw the president at 7.45pm that evening and that’s when he asked me if I would serve in his Cabinet.
“I have always fought for justice. I believe that cause is greater than any one person,” said De Lille.
She joked that she had been prepared to fly back to Cape Town that evening and only packed one pair of extra jeans and takkies.
“It was a mad scramble the next day to find shoes and a dress for the swearing in ceremony.”
She said while the bulk of her work would be done in Parliament, there is an office in Pretoria, but she was not thinking about that just yet.