State is turning to ABT for solutions to housing delivery problems

“Critical backlogs and inferior workmanship in public sector housing and school construction programmes is prompting all levels of Government – central, provincial and local – to increasingly seek solutions in alternative building technologies (ABT).

“This trend has been given further impetus by the R50-billion repair bill that government now faces for what Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale refers to as ‘shoddy workmanship’ on the construction of RDP housing,” says Brent Harris, founder and CEO of Vela Building Solutions.

Vela is the leading innovator and supplier in South Africa, and the sub-Saharan region, of ABT alternatives to bricks and mortar in the construction of large-scale housing projects; relocatable emergency dwelling units; more liveable accommodation for informal settlers; and other community infrastructure – such as schools, crèches, clinics, offices and trading outlets.

“To its credit, government, through the Department of Human Settlements, has already acknowledged the potential role of ABT in housing provision – not least by its contribution to the creation of an alternatively built ‘show village’ in Soshanguve, near Pretoria; and its facilitation, in 2010, of a two-day national exhibition and conference (in Sandton) on alternative building solutions,” says Brent.

“Nevertheless, the benefits of ABT construction in the human settlement arena – including cost and time efficiency, durability, skills development, and lower corruption risk – remain largely untapped in South Africa.

“It is a fact that bricks and mortar construction is prone to a huge margin of error – particularly when unskilled workers are involved,” says Brent.

“Incorrect mixing of concrete is just one of the major pitfalls. If you factor in malpractice, such as skimping on materials, or using bricks and other components inferior to those quoted and contracted for, you have a recipe for disaster. The R50-billion RDP repair bill almost certainly reflects that reality,” says Brent.

“Minister Sexwale’s acknowledgement of the poor workmanship, the sense of contract entitlement, and other problems which have beset RDP housing delivery, will hopefully be the key that opens the door to greater involvement by the ABT sector in human settlement service delivery in future.

“A big step in that direction,” he adds, “ has just been taken by the Western Cape’s Department of Human Settlements, which has invited contractors to submit tenders for the ABT construction of some 2 000 homes (in single and double-storey format) in Delft, Cape Town.

“This is one of the largest, if not the largest, single ABT housing   developments yet undertaken by the public sector in sub-Saharan Africa,” he adds.

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