When President Cyril Ramaphosa mentioned smart cities in his recent state of the nation address, it was actually not a dream but already a reality.
This is according to Lebogang Zulu, chief executive of innovative building technology company Tshitshirisang Construction & Projects. Zulu says the technology to build smart cities is already available.
“And while everybody was imagining smart cities as a concept, it is actually not, but it is a reality,” said Zulu, who boasts to be the sole local manufacturer of the fortis building systems, as well as being the only black female in a male dominated industry.
These were smart houses in a sense that “when it is cold outside, and you walk into that house it is warmer. When it is hot outside and you walk into that house and it is cooler. So, it responds to the weather”.
The technology gives stronger walls, which are three times faster to erect, 20% cheaper than conventional building methods, bigger living space and a better acoustic and thermal performance.
The North West government last week announced that a part of its cost containment measures included alternative building for infrastructure, ring-fencing up to 30% of the allocated budget for this purpose.
Any deviation will have to be motivated with the office of the premier and treasury granting approval.
This comes on the back of the National Home Builders Registration Council’s (NHBRC) pilot project to build smart RDP houses – based on light-weight steel and mortar applications – for identified beneficiaries across all the nine provinces.
Tshitshirisang became one of the project contractors, and last week handed over one of the units in Jagersfontein in Free State’s Kopanong Local Municipality to 85-year-old Manuku Afrika.
The NHBRC’s provincial inspectorate coordinator, Lebo Mponeng, said the housing backlog meant government would be unable to house everybody, especially with the current deficit budget.
“So we have to look at creative ways of assisting government to come up with uncongenial building system,” Mponeng said.
He said the new building systems did not have a proven track record in South Africa since this is a new concept.
However, through “trial and error, we are learning as we grow. We come up with enhancements, new developments and learn from global markets on how we can upscale this new idea of building with alternative building systems”.
The important quality components were designs, workmanship and material.
Zulu said the technology combined building innovation and sanitation innovation, in line with the merged human settlements and sanitation department.
The technology also combined innovative and conventional building ideas, where “innovation is in the still frame that replaces the brick part of construction, and the conventional part is the mortar that we apply on the wall”.
“So, it is a reinforced concrete wall,” she said, adding the house boasted stronger walls, but it could also be extended, using brick and mortar.
The smart house took 14 days to build and created jobs for locals.
“Only four skilled personnel came with the company, the other eight were community members who knew nothing about construction. So it does not require any level of skill.”
The sanitation part of the technology relied on its waterless system, said Zulu, adding that it was unrealistic that government would be able to roll out infrastructure at a pace that kept up with the demand.
The innovative sanitation system did not need sewer or water infrastructure and used a ventilation system to extract the smell of human waste while also drying it.
Three people living in the house would take up to two years to fill up the underground fitted reusable bag that serves as a storage tank for waste. If a child fell into the reusable waste tank “they would not drown because it is dry and the worst that could happen is that they would probably come out smelling horrible”.
The technology was also suitable for schools, clinics, police stations and other social infrastructure, said Zulu.
Acclaim for smart RDPs
“Delighted and excited,” Free State Human Settlements MEC Tshidi Koloi said the innovative building technology was setting the bar high compared to the previous RDP houses government built for communities.
“Actually, we are getting there [and] as you can see this morning that, the type of house that has been built is totally different from initial houses of RDP. We are going to roll out the programme,” Koloi said.
Head of Free State human settlements department Tim Mokhesi said “the innovative building technology is actually the future”.
“With this type of technology, you could be in a position to deliver houses quickly as this type of structure takes 14 days to deliver one unit,” Mokhesi said. “If we are working very well, we should be in a position to increase efficiency in terms of the budget. The house is stronger than your conventional brick and mortar. But we also have a long way to go to teach our communities that there are other building methods that are more efficient and better that the conventional brick and mortar type.”
Mokhesi said: “The house is solid and also much stronger. So, this is the route to go, of course, with the support of NHRC in terms of quality assurance.”
Kopanong mayor, Xolile Mathwa, said he was impressed by the house. “I have actually indicated, informally so, to the MEC, that my wish is that they should consider rolling out the same programme of such units through the province.
“I would happy if communities in this municipality could also benefit from the programme. Housing is a priority so it is also my wish that my community should benefit,” Mathwa said.
Afrika, who was allocated the first house, said she was over the moon, while her peers said they wish to be next in line for the smart RDP houses.
Tshitshirisang also donated furniture to Afrika.
“If we are talking [about] a smart house, then we must change the perception that people have about RDPs. An RDP is a home for somebody, just like anybody that has a house in Sandton. And just because it is a 40m² house does not mean it cannot accommodate the beauty that life has to offer,” said Zulu.
“It does not mean it must have some little kitchen sink that looks like a jail house. That perception is what we are trying to kill with what we have done with that house. We donated furniture that I as the CEO could walk into that house and live in that house and love it,” she said.
The innovative kitchen area. Picture: Supplied
The kitchen of the 'smart RDP' house. Picture: Supplied