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August 10, 09

NEWS / Clinton Returns to Volunteer at South African Housing Project

By Stephen Kaufman
Staff Writer

Washington — On the last day of her visit to South Africa, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton danced, worked at a construction site, and praised South Africans who had pooled their savings and built homes for 50,000 people who had formerly lived in shacks.

Clinton visited the Victoria Mxenge housing development near Cape Town August 8, named for a South African anti-apartheid activist who was assassinated in 1985.

The project was begun in 1991 by 30 South African women living in squatter shacks who decided to combine their meagre savings. Along with microcredit loans from the South African government, they were able to collectively build homes for their families.

This was Secretary Clinton’s third visit to the housing development. As first lady, she volunteered in 1997 with her daughter Chelsea and returned in 1998 with her husband, then-President Bill Clinton.

“I am very proud to see the progress that you have made, and to know that because of your efforts and this model, there are 50,000 houses built like this across South Africa,” Clinton told community members.

Every person wants to “have something that is their own,” she said. “And so the more we can empower that, the better.”

The Victoria Mxenge development is a branch of the South African Homeless People Foundation (SAHPF), an organization whose members voluntarily contribute savings and labor to construct homes, provide skills training, and educate people on HIV/AIDS prevention and other health issues.

According to the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, SAHPF has received funding in the past from the U.S. Agency for International Development through a $300,000 grant to the nongovernmental organization People’s Dialogue.

People’s Dialogue disbanded in 2005, but SAHPF has since functioned independently. Patricia Matolengwe founded and currently heads the Victoria Mxenge branch, and the embassy says there have been three phases of construction under her leadership, with increased quality as community members improve their construction and planning skills.

The Mxenge housing development remains surrounded by settlements of squatters living in shacks. Many migrants from impoverished rural areas have moved to the Cape Town area in hopes of finding work and have had to use crude shacks as their only available shelter.

The secretary said she had come “to sight-see,” but according to news reports, she and her staff joined teams of women who were clearing rubble from a new construction site and planting flowers.

She also danced as a choir sang for her arrival at the housing development.

Before Clinton’s departure, the local project head reportedly asked the secretary if she would care to make a donation.

The secretary was unfortunately not carrying any cash, but Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, quickly stepped in to contribute $50 on her behalf.

“These are good businesswomen,” Clinton said


Tags: secretary of state,


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