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Self-help building project helps to change lives
2017-12-15


 Description: Eco house read more Tags: Anita Venter, Start Living Green’, Earthship Biotecture Academy, construction skills 

Anita Venter, lecturer in the Centre for Development Support, with the residents of
the eco friendly house. Photo: Supplied

UFS PhD student Anita Venter did not know it in the beginning, but her doctoral research would eventually change her life and the lives of many others. 

The research was whether South Africa’s housing policies were socially and culturally responsive to grassroots reality in informal settlements. Venter agreed her research approach might have raised a few eye brows, but it was a journey she holds had more benefits than failures. 

Green living
For her case studies, Venter looked at ‘Start Living Green’ as a concept and further examined the implementation models of Earthship Biotecture Academy in New Mexico and Central America and the Long Way Home non-profit organisation in Guatemala. 

These groups train people with no specialised construction skills in applying and managing environmentally sound self-help building projects. Furthermore, their primary objectives were not building-related, but people-centred, with an advocacy role to create social, environmental and educational change through utilising the building technologies. 

It resulted in Venter signing up for a course in Guatemala to get the skills to implement her case studies here at home in Bloemfontein. 

An experimental mud, straw and waste material structure in her back yard grew into similar houses built in informal settlements, through the transfer of knowledge of indigenous building methods.  

Are rickety corrugated iron shacks only alternative?

Her case studies, one in Freedom Square in the Mangaung Metro Municipality, highlighted, among others, baffling tenure insecurities and “tangible conflicts” entrenched between Westernised and African perspectives on home ownership.

Venter says her thesis, in essence, did not oppose existing housing strategies but did challenge the applicability of an economically inclined model as the most appropriate housing option for millions of households living in informal settlements. 

The main findings of the case studies were that self-help building technologies and skills transfer could make a significant contribution to addressing housing shortages in the country; in particular in geographical locations such as the Free State province and other rural areas.

Venter’s own words after her academic endeavour are insightful: “These grassroots individuals’ courage to engage with me in unknown territories, gave me hope in humanity and inherent strength to keep on pursuing our vision of transforming informal settlements into evolving indigenous neighbourhoods of choice instead of only being living spaces of last resort.”

Positive results 
The study has had many positive results. The City of Cape Town is now looking at new innovative building technologies as a result. Most importantly Venter's study will open further discussions that necessarily challenge the status quo views in housing development. 

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