Sunday, October 21

Two-storey delight in Khayelitsha

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Security guard and his family show us their double-storey house, developed by NGO Ikhayalami in Khayelitsha

Snethemba Botha describes himself as a very happy man.

The 33-year-old security guard ascribes this to his new home, a double-storey in Khayelitsha’s BT Section, in which he lives with his partner and their three children aged 11, 6 and 3.

Botha’s house is in a development created by Ikhayalami, an NGO focusing on housing innovation in informal settlements, in collaboration with Urban Think Tank, ETH Zurich and the BT Section community of Khayelitsha Site C as well as other associates.

Botha, who is from Centani near Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, arrived in Cape Town more than 10 years ago, and built a shack in BT Section.

“I came to look for a job in Cape Town and had no place to stay, since I had no money. I needed a place close to schools where I did not have to pay too much rent.”

The lounge on the upper level with the bedrooms. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Botha, his partner Nokulunga Mafenuka and their children found themselves squeezed into the small shack, a home that leaked when the rains came. At the time Ikhayalami was, in association with the City of Cape Town, given approval to develop land that contained 15 shacks in phase one of a three-phase project.  

The houses are built around a sanitation core which provides the water to the bathroom and kitchen. They have concrete-block walls and concrete first floors, and are built on or near to where the shacks were previously. Because they are double-storeyed, it is possible for households to reduce their footprint while maintaining the same structure size as before, or even going bigger.

The original concept of Empower Shack was simply to upgrade shacks into timber-framed double-storey structures clad in galvanised zinc sheeting, but after recommendations from the City of Cape Town, the design was amended to incorporate block walls between units as fire breaks, says Andy Bolnick, founder of Ikhayalami.

The exterior of the double-storey homes in Khayelitsha’s BT Section. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

“We provide the basics, the running water and toilet and bathroom, and the rest of the space is left for the occupant to divide up and improve as they see fit. We don’t want to be prescriptive – we say, here’s the core shell and you determine how you want to live in it and partition it.”

Botha, Mafenuka and the children moved out while their home was upgraded. When they were able to move back in, they were delighted. Botha says: “This is the first time I have lived in a double-storey house and I love the size since my shack was small. I cherish the children’s room most because it has given them their own space and also my girlfriend and I our privacy. Since my favourite colour is pink, I ensured one room was painted that colour.”

There are two bedrooms and a lounge upstairs, and a kitchen downstairs, along with a large separate room which can be used by the family, or for business purposes, or let. The home is furnished with items the family had in their old shack. But much of it was damaged in storage while the house was being upgraded.

Botha says: “My favourite piece of furniture is my stove since it’s the only thing that’s working properly. My biggest wish is for some money to buy new furniture, especially a fridge, as the old one hasn’t worked since we fetched it from storage.”

The neat kitchen. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Botha does some of the cooking, but Mafenuka does most of it.

“I love traditional food like pap and mleqwa (chicken). I also cook, but the mother of my kids does most of the cooking. She prepares the food and we all eat together in the lounge.”

Botha’s day begins at 5am when he showers and leaves for work. He does a 12-hour shift and returns home at about 6.30pm when he has supper with Mafenuka and the children, two boys and a girl.

“We then sit and talk and go to sleep at about 8pm.”

Botha’s older son Nhlanhla goes to Nhlanganiso Primary nearby, while his daughter Cwenga attends a creche. Toddler Luphawo stays home with his mom.

Botha, like other residents of the Empower Shack Project, have to make a contribution to their new home; this is a prerequisite of the project and of the funding received. Homeowners are expected to pay about 14% of the construction costs; the rest is subsidised by funding from Swiss Re secured by Urban Think Tank.

Botha contemplates his dry, stylish and much bigger home and smiles. “Yes,” he says, “I’m a very happy man.”

* The Empower Shack project has been selected by the Royal Institute of British Architects as one of 62 international buildings for the institutes’s 2018 International List, examples of “the most inspirational and significant new buildings created across the globe”. The other South African building on the list is the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art at the V&A Waterfront. The best building will be announced in December.

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