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Taffy Adler joins Wits

- By Reshma Lakha-Singh

In infrastructure and social housing development circles, having Taffy Adler on your side means that the job will get done. He is one of South Africa’s most well respected and admired social entrepreneurs and was at helm of the development of the national housing subsidy policy for the ANC-led government in 1994.

Recently appointed at Wits University as the Director of the Braamfontein Urban Revitalisation Project, Adler has been tasked to take forward the Wits 2022 objectives in relation to the infrastructure development plans for Braamfontein and Frankenwald.

“My task is twofold. In Braamfontein I am leading the ‘Reimagining Braamfontein’ programme initiated by the Vice-Chancellor.  Its intention is to change the south-western part of Braamfontein into a vibrant urban node, where academic purpose and an urban way of life merge.  This will involve hosting residential communities for students and staff, commercial activity as well as incubation centers such as Tshimologong (Precinct) within an urban regeneration programme. My other task is to develop feasibility plans for the Wits Frankenwald property as an income generator for Wits academic programmes.”

With more than 35 years of experience in political and social activism, and leadership in the trade union movement, urban development and human settlements, Adler was until recently the CEO of the Housing Development Agency (HDA) – a position he held since its inception in 2009. The HDA is a national public development agency that makes land and buildings available for the development of housing and human settlements.

Upon leaving the HDA, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said: “Sadly, we are losing one of our most experienced housing experts. He is a seasoned housing activist and has shaped the HDA into a highly effective organisation, which is an essential part of the state’s human settlements efforts. He has played a pivotal role in the N2 Gateway; the informal settlements upgrade programme and the development of the country’s Master Spatial Plan. ”

Adler’s credentials include that of being at the forefront of the development of the non-racial Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU) which was the forerunner to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). At the same time he was the non-executive founding chairman of Sangonet, the first internet service provider in South Africa.

In 1991, he became the founding CEO of the Land Investment Trust. Adler was also the founding CEO of the Johannesburg Housing Company (JHC), a position he held for 15 years. Whilst at the JHC, he was instrumental in renovating 24 buildings in the central Johannesburg and providing 8 500 people with homes.

In 1999 Adler was named Gauteng Housing Person of the Year by the SA Housing Institute and in 2007 was named South African Social Entrepreneur of the Year.  He is also a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Council on Real Estate and Urbanisation.  He chairs two charitable trusts which have support various charities and NGO’s operating in the welfare, education and early childhood sectors. 

No stranger to the Wits corridors, Adler was the Wits-SRC President in 1971. “I was part of the student leadership that staged the final legal march and the first illegal march to John Vorster Square.” He adds that students were instrumental in setting up unions, and he together with fellow activists set up a workers advice office called the Wits Industrial Aid Society. “We would advise and support workers with queries, and this led to union organisation, a process which culminated in the eventual formation of FOSATU,” he adds.

Adler graduated with a BA, a BPhil in African Studies and a MSc in Building Science from Wits. He also lectured at Wits and at the University of Cape Town.

He very proudly and rightfully says that his life’s work has been about the privilege of growing social institutions, most of which have been focused on providing homes for the poor and marginalised.

So when not dealing with bricks and mortar, Adler is an ardent cyclist having completed 22 Argus Cycle Tours. His two other passions are his 15-month-old grandson, Tristan; and the Taffy Adler Cup Soccer Tournament for disadvantaged youth in the Johannesburg CBD.