The Times - You can build a house in a day

The Times - You can build a house in a day

Government shows no interest in innovative and cheap solution for SA’s millions of homeless.

His first attempt at building a boundary wall ended up as a duck pond. Two decades on, Hennie Botes has perfected his building technology and is now exporting houses that can be built in a day.

The Port Elizabeth-based entrepreneur spent many late nights during the 1980s experimenting with moulds, cement and water and his perseverance has paid off.

Today he exports his housing units consisting of plastic moulds and mortar to 16 countries around the world.

“Close to 95% of our production to date has been for exporting, but that is changing,” said Botes.

He said he has yet to persuade the government to use his invention for its RDP housing programme, because there was still some reluctance in South Africa to deviate from conventional bricks and mortar structures.

The simple design requires minimal skill and has earned him several awards, including the SABS Design for Development Award. Plastic moulds are pegged together and mortar is poured in. Later the moulds are taken apart and the roof is fitted.

The entire process of building a standard 40m² house — from laying the foundation to installing plumbing and putting up the roof — takes only two weeks.

The houses cost about R1000 a square metre, which means a 40m², three-bedroom house with kitchen and toilet can be built for as little as R50000. An RDP house of between 18m² and 23m² (one bedroom and a combined lounge, kitchenette and toilet) is said to cost the government up to R53000.

“We look at the home as little boxes and then we put those boxes together,” said Botes.

It needs at least 30 people to build the house, but women can do it as easily as men — or even better. “ Women are more meticulous and conform to repetition easier than men,” said Botes.

He said his company had built about 250 units, mainly show houses, around South Africa, but that they had exported “thousands” to other countries including Mexico, India, Iraq and Nigeria.

Originally from Durban, Botes created his first invention in 1980 when his wife complained about carrying bath water for their baby.

Botes came up with a simple baby bath that hooked inside the traditional bath — and that kicked off his obsession with innovations to make life simpler.

Several other ideas followed, but the one which has paid off the most is the technology behind his houses. It began to take shape when Botes decided to build a wall around his property.

“It was difficult work to lay one brick on top of the other, and then to go and plaster that wall was an impossibility because it kept falling off,” he said.

“Then I thought there must be a different way of doing this, and that is where I started working on casting a wall. My first wall formwork didn’t work and it ended up as a duck pond.”

But he did not give up.

He had his mortar formula tested at several universities to ensure that it would withstand pressure when used in construction.

In 1991, Botes set up shop, calling his company Moladi, which means to give birth.

Earlier this month, Moladi completed a show house in Ghana, and Botes said officials there have already ordered 3000 units.

He hopes to open plants in Ghana and India within the next year.

Locally, he aims to train other entrepreneurs to use the Moladi technology so they too can go out and build more cost-effective, less labour-intensive quality houses.

“I don’t do this for the money, I do this for the love of housing people, that emotion that goes with when a person moves into a house,” he said.

“That’s emotion that money cannot buy. That granny that kissed me on the hand, a guy that hugs me. All life-changing, and that is what motivates me.”

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