When Hennie Botes, CEO of Moladi, says “brick and mortar is as ancient as a tomb in Thebes,” he doesn’t mean it as a compliment. In fact, he’s spent much of his life trying to improve on the ancient technology. But Botes, a South African engineer and affordable housing developer, is focused on more than just materials. He wants nothing less than to do away with old ways of thinking.
It’s time, he believes, for new ways to deal with problems of underdevelopment and housing deficits. Botes believes South Africa the construction industry is overly compartmentalized, with planner, architect, developer, engineer, contractor and financier all working individually and not cohesively, which creates major delays – more like a relay than a sprint. All the players need to be working together more closely.
Botes’ Moladi is a 28-year old South African company specializing in sustainable construction practices for affordable housing. At its core is the technology Botes invented, plastic formwork used for building small concrete structures simply and efficiently. It’s the construction process, however, that has given Moladi its reputation for innovation in low-cost housing in Africa.
Unemployment, Botes believes, can be fought by training people to build homes for themselves and others. Sustainable construction therefore needs to be approached as a holistic effort, one that builds communities and local economies as well as shelter.
“When I started out 28 years ago, I simply wanted to cast a wall,” Botes recalls. Today, he sees his mission as more akin to that of his hero, Henry Ford. Just as Ford is famous for inspiring a manufacturing system that enables well-compensated workers to afford the low-cost, standardized products they produced, Botes sees a similar opportunity for low-cost, mass housing to serve as a linchpin for development.
“My product offers jobs for the unemployed, shelter for the homeless and funding for products,” says Botes. “We have a formula, a holistic offering, partnering with the best professionals in every industry. When we go to a village, we take our partners and succeed without reinventing the wheel.”
When Moladi works outside of South Africa, the only imported building materials are their plastic formworks. These can be used many times over and, when no longer useful, can be recycled. Formworks are clipped together and are filled with local concrete and steel, whenever possible. To build, local labor, both men and women, are hired. In one day, a classroom, home or clinic can be constructed.
Moladi’s approach eliminates waste and optimizes production by fabricating components without third parties. Moladi sends all the necessary components and tools. Because tools are bought in bulk, it saves time and money. Botes see his strategy as promoting rural sustainability in order to support urban sustainability. “It is vital that we prevent another 400 million person influx into cities.”
Scale, Volume and Government Support
Botes has been working for three years to get a 35,000 home project off the ground in Tanzania. With the support of Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete, Botes has identified American investors eager to fund the project alongside a sovereign guarantee from Tanzania. The scale of this project allows vertical integration which is key to Botes’ philosophy.
“Building 35,000 houses in Tanzania automatically gives the volume of orders to fabricate door handles or light switches. Then, I don’t have to buy a low-cost Chinese product that may be inferior and creates no local value in terms of jobs.”
By manufacturing more components in Africa, Botes wants to use his engineering and design skills to create opportunities for the base of the pyramid. Moladi is also working with an organization providing assistance to the 450,000 veterans of Angola’s civil war. Many of these largely unemployed vets will be employed to build housing in rural villages across Angola.
In Zambia, Moladi is involved with an early-stage plan by the national government to help develop 21 new towns along new, safer and less expensive trucking routes to bring copper to port, connecting the Copper Belt region of Zambia to ports in Namibia and Mozambique. Truck routes need services and stopover towns. Moladi would be building homes, town halls, schools and boreholes.
Another longtime project with the South African government to address the backlog of rural classrooms uses a public private model to partner with architects and engineers. Both mud and prefab classrooms, prevalent in rural areas, would be replaced with Moladi structures.
28 years in business, Botes can choose his partners. Any prospective partners and clients, who share Botes’ long-term vision and ambition, are welcome to visit Moladi offices in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.