Last weekend I visited an RDP housing community near Springs, Johannesburg. I was shocked at the condition of the housing. Basically shacks with brick walls instead of IBR Sheeting.
I was told that there was only a budget of R35K per house. I know for a fact that the budget was at least twice that. The original plans specified solar geysers, lighting, more electrical outlets, kitchen cupboards, a stove, plastered and painted internal walls, painted external walls, ceilings, insulation in the roof and fully fitted bathrooms and tiling throughout the house. Not only were the houses very poorly built and some looked dangerous, but many were unfinished rotting in the veld. There were plenty of vacant plots, the roads were unpaved (the local community is paving the roads at their own cost), the community centre and clinic was not built.
It's all very well to point fingers at the current government, but the corruption extends all the way down - from the fat cats at the top right down to the 'contractors' who hire unskilled labour and don't even bother to supervise them. Labourers are paid about R500 per house they complete, Building Inspectors are paid to sign off incomplete and badly built houses and the money allocated for the houses to be correctly built and finished properly has misteriously disappeared.....
So here are my thoughts on what to do about the situation :-
1. Build with sustainable, renewable resources - compressed straw bale homes would be ideal. Not only would many farmers be glad to give the straw away for free, this building method is fast, safe (compressed straw bales are very fire-resistant), energy efficient, water efficient and is a well known method of building here in SA - the largest straw bale structure in the world is here in SA - the Didiwala Game Lodge.
2. Insulate the roof and floor. An insulated house will bring down the high electricity demand for both heating and cooling homes. All new homes are supposed to have insulation in the roof. It is a fact that South Africa's coal reserves are going to be almost depleted by 2020.
3. Solar panels for both lighting and hot-water heating.
4. Solar Ovens & Heaters - see link :-
5. Polished Concrete Floors and concrete baths, basins and Kitchen Counters. Polished Concrete floors are aesthetically pleasing and reduce costs considerably by eliminating the need for tiles/carpets. Concrete baths, basins and Kitchen Counters will also save costs by being installed on site.
6. Skills training for locals - by getting the community involved in building the houses we will be helping to provide jobs for the people who most need them.
7. Encourage companies to sponsor materials and skills training. Large companies in SA are expected to contribute to a social development fund, in addition they will be advertising their products and services for free and helping to reduce the crime rate.
If these simple measures can be implemented we can help restore a sense of pride, reduce the crime rate and give the people safe, environmentally friendly and sustainable houses to live in. I have the chance to get involved - if any one reading this has any more ideas or would like to help please let me know.
Claire Cardwell is originally from the UK and moved to South Africa in 1999. She started Blue Designs in 2004 after working as a Project Manager for Avalon Construction on a luxury home in the Featherbrook Estate. In her spare time Claire is a keen artist and photographer.