Irish millionaire Niall Mellon, whose township trust has built 3 500 low-cost houses in South Africa, says South Africans should stop blaming the government for a lack of houses and build them themselves.

"It is time everybody stops blaming the government. Developers in this country should be obligated by law to build low-cost houses.

"It should be law that for every upmarket development built, the developer should build the same amount of low-cost houses for the poor community nearest to it."

Mellon has put both his money - and his energy - where his mouth is.

For the fifth time since 2003, he has brought in hundreds of Irish builders for a week-long house-building blitz by the Niall Mellon Township Trust.

Each of the 1 380 volunteers who arrived last night to build houses in Tafelsig in Mitchells Plain, had to raise at least R40 000 towards the building project. Mellon, who was on site this week, said: "One volunteer told me on Friday that he had raised R300 000.

"So far, the trust has built 3 500 houses throughout Gauteng and the Western Cape. This is by far the most ambitious project we have undertaken and the response to our call for volunteers and fundraising has been unbelievable.

"My country's people have made me really proud. This is the largest Irish voluntary mission to leave the shores of Ireland."

He said the year-round construction projects provided much-needed employment in the townships and also followed the ethos of the charity, which strove to provide training and skills to people.

One of the recipients of the new houses will be Brian Fredericks, of Freedom Park informal settlement in Mitchells Plain, who said his life was now "like Christmas every day".

He said he was so excited he could not sleep at night. He, his wife and their three children are to receive the keys to their first house after living in people's backyards, garages and a shack for the past 20 years. His family is one of 200 in the area who will receive brick and mortar houses.

"This is the best gift anyone has ever given my family," Fredericks said. "I want to cry with joy."

Mellon has taken an interest in South Africa's poor ever since he bought a home in Llandudno. The trust was established in 2002 and aims to help some of the impoverished people in South Africa achieve the human right of a decent place to live and raise their children.

It began its work in 2003 when 150 volunteers arrived in Cape Town and built 25 houses in Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay.

The charity has had a construction site in the Tafelsig area since June and the buildings are already at various stages of completion, waiting for the volunteers to finish them off next week.

There was air of excitement in Freedom Park this week as word went out on the streets that the "Irish are coming".

The chairwoman of the Freedom Park Association, Whieba Naidoo, who is also to receive a home, said people had lived in appalling conditions in the informal settlement for almost 10 years, and many had overcome immense hardships.

Unemployment was rife and many people struggled to eke out an existence. "We have to endure many tragedies," she said. "But now it's time to celebrate."

Mellon was on the building site this week and as word spread of his arrival, members of the community came to thank him, and some hugged him.