The safety of a roof over our heads is one of the most fundamental human needs. But for many people in South Africa, achieving and hanging onto this critical milestone is a massive struggle.
Thousands affected by the recent floods in KwaZulu Natal now face this reality. Among them are the Gwala family, whose home was split into two and their bedrooms swept away, leaving them with little. Furious waters damaged the Khwela family home so severely that it had to be demolished. Numerous people also lost friends and relatives. The Lyanda family never saw their grandparents alive again and couldn't recover their grandfather's body.
But it doesn't take terrific natural disasters to show how housing shortages are a major source of stress and despair for the country's people. The Nyaku family from Gauteng have lived in a shack for many years alongside their neighbours' brick homes, waiting for their turn to receive housing. The Madonsela family from Mpumalanga inherited their late mother's home, only to discover vandals destroyed it. And the Shange family have no idea what started the fire that consumed their home, but all they have left are ashes.
These examples are just a few from ITHUBA's questionnaires. South Africa's third lottery operator has embarked on a campaign to provide housing for people in desperate need, interviewing potential new owners to learn of their circumstances and liaising with traditional leaders in specific areas for guidance. It's a project that stems from ITHUBA Holdings CEO Charmaine Mabuza's efforts and company vision, starting inside ITHUBA and developing a means to deliver homes across the country.
ITHUBA's project led to a recent roadshow where its staff handed over new homes to families in three provinces. Though such efforts might hardly register in a country that still needs over 3 million houses, they make a big difference for each recipient. South Africa cannot rely on the State to make up this shortfall – it will require effort from all corners of society, including private companies such as ITHUBA.
Mabuza puts a significant stake in this vision. It's the cornerstone of her company, and she believes the way to build a stronger nation.
Tackling SA's housing shortage
When South Africa became a democratic nation in the early 1990s, the new dispensation made housing a development priority. Nelson Mandela, SA's first democratically elected president, declared it an "unbreakable promise." Housing has been a big focus, resulting in millions of new homes being built under the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP).
Yet it's been tough to maintain that momentum. Issues such as corruption and poor planning harmed progress. But even if everything operated smoothly, the rapid urbanisation of South Africa's cities is increasing demand significantly. According to the Centre for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa, the current backlog for new homes sits at 3.7 million, threatening to dwarf the 3 million already constructed.
This struggle for housing ranges from those who have lost homes and cannot replace them to those still waiting for homes. Mabuza realised that many people are unable to afford a house.
"Several years ago, I was again reminded that the average South African – those who make our tea, clean our office and mow our lawns – could never afford a house on their means. Even if you have access to cheap land and no levies, a new home will cost at least R500,000. The people at the bottom who work hard to give us better lifestyles have no hope of affording or financing their own place. So we started to build homes for our staff at ITHUBA, focusing on those who need it the most," says Mabuza.
This internal project would take on additional significance due to the KZN floods. In April 2022, severe rains caused unprecedented flooding in the coastal province, killing hundreds of people and destroying thousands of homes.
Mabuza visited the region, and while she attended these engagements, she saw that ITHUBA could do more if it emulated the journey that provided her staff with their homes.
"This was our first push to define what we can do from a company perspective. We've learned a lot. There are many technical difficulties and hurdles. Others have criticised us. But we're not going to stand back and do nothing about it. At least we are trying."
That effort paid off for at least fifteen families in early December, when ITHUBA launched a roadshow to Mpumalanga, Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal, delivering fifteen homes to their new owners. It's not enough to move the needle, says Mabuza, but it still makes an enormous difference on a personal level.
"Even helping a few at a time is a step forward. Doing nothing is a big step backwards."
A vision to uplift others
ITHUBA is working on expanding its housing project even though this philanthropy is not its core business. The company delivers National Lottery services throughout the country, using new technologies to make the National Lottery more accessible to prospective players. ITHUBA is regulated by the National Lotteries Commission (NLC). The NLC’s mandate is to regulate Lotteries and funding to develop arts, culture, and sports and address the basic everyday needs of people.
"People lose sight of why National Lotteries are formed. National Lotteries are created because governments cannot make the necessary funds available for certain sectors," says Mabuza. "Lotteries can fill that gap if they are run responsibly and with the right vision. And vision is critical to me. I wanted to ensure that I built an organisation that is a catalyst, not only from a bottom-line perspective, but also in making a difference. It must also support my vision that corporate social investment matters, making this organisation a catalyst of change and support to people making a difference."
The National Lottery operator, ITHUBA, has been practising this since its inception in June 2015. It provides bursaries, entrepreneur development programmes, food schemes and numerous other activities outside its work with the National Lottery and National Lotteries Commission. ITHUBA pursues development and nation-building that goes beyond its mandate from the National Lottery, an expression of Mabuza's vision.
But few needs are as primary and life-changing as providing homes. As the late musician Sol Hurok said, "The sky's the limit if you have a roof over your head." Inadequate housing is one of South Africa's most significant barriers. South African Government data from 2019 estimated that nearly thirteen percent of the country's 59 million people still live in shacks. The KZN floods put a new spotlight on this plight and the struggles of many people longing for the basics of a safe house where families can gather.
Giving a speech during a handover event, Charmaine Mabuza said, "Thina abase ITHUBA, sinizwile, ngaloko, sizzle kulo suku, sini lethele izindlu, lapha nizo hlala khona. As ITHUBA, we have heard your cries, and we are here today on this day to give you houses where you will be staying."
Her words emphasise the next phase of ITHUBA's housing project, guided by a vision that by helping each other, we help ourselves and help the nation. South Africa's housing challenge may be enormous. But it's not unconquerable when driven by the spirit that motivates Mabuza and her colleagues.