16 January 2008
The Irish government has approved a €5-million (about R50-million) grant for building township houses in South Africa, visiting Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern announced on Monday.
Ahern said the Irish government’s development agency, Irish Aid, would give the money to the Niall Mellon Township Trust, created by Irish philanthropist Niall Mellon to build homes for impoverished South Africans.
“It is up to all of us who care about the future of South Africa to take responsibility and do our bit,” Ahern said during an official visit to the Mitchell’s Plain, Cape Town site where Mellon’s charity is on the verge of completing 330 homes.
So far, 239 families have moved out of ramshackle homes in the area into their new brick houses, with the Niall Mellon Townships Initiative aiming to complete 450 homes in the impoverished part of the huge township.
The house-building charity has also homes elsewhere in cape Town, and is already well known by the Imizamo Yethu community of Hout Bay in Cape Town for providing many families there with decent homes.
Mellon, whose charity began building homes for impoverished South Africans six years ago, accompanied Ahern, Irish Minister of State for Overseas Development Michael Kitt, and Ireland’s ambassador to South Africa, Colin Wrafter, on a tour of Freedom Park.
Ahern visited the shack of the Van Schalkwyk family on the edge of the Freedom Park site, in which they have been living for almost 10 years, before viewing the Garden of Hope and the community centre, built by 1 370 Irish volunteers last year.
Speaking to reporters and the entourage afterwards, Ahern said he expected that the van Schalkwyk family would be living in a modern brick home before long.
This year, the Niall Mellon Township Trust aims to recruit 2 008 volunteers from Ireland to come and spend a week in the area in November and build more homes, and will be chartering seven aircraft to bring them over from Ireland.
Already, 3 000 volunteers – drawn from almost every village on the small island of Ireland – have been to South Africa to contribute towards the government’s objective of providing decent homes for all South Africa.
This was part of “a deep-rooted desire by Irish people to do their part”, Mellon said.
Mellon added that the charity had expanded dramatically in recent years and that he would be removing his name from it at the end of this year in acknowledgement of the efforts of the volunteers and members of the recipient communities.
Since its inception in 2002, the charity has built more than 5 000 houses for shack-dwellers, and now provides employment for almost 2 000 people in South Africa, most of them from the townships in which it is working.
The charity is hoping to have built 7 000 houses by the end of this year.
“It is very difficult to build a good school and send a child home to a shack and expect them to do well academically,” Mellon said.
Greeted with applause from the community a song from a group of toddlers, Ahern later escorted a disabled woman, Joyce Saal, and her niece into their new home and handed them the keys.
The Irish prime minister said that Ireland was now in sixth position in the world in terms of its aid per capita, adding that the Irish government was committed to reaching the industrialised nations’ target of providing 0.7 percent of GDP to development assistance, and to “stay there at that level of aid”.