There is nothing wrong with bricks and mortar as a building material. It has survived well and delivered good solid housing.

With the severe housing shortage in Africa it may be time to start exploring the use of alternative materials. Image credit: Rob Zohrab –

With the severe housing shortage in Africa it may be time to start exploring the use of alternative materials. Image credit: Rob Zohrab –

The problem is that South Africa is just not reaching anywhere near its target to provide housing, whether it be inner city or development. Of course, there is building being done but when 16% of this building is in the hands of the private sector and the remainder in government and government appointed funders, there is a problem.

And still we keep on building with bricks and mortar while the people create more and more informal settlements which are unhealthy, with poor sanitation and lack of water.

The Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) has made a valiant effort to bring to everyone’s attention the need to seriously look at timber for housing. Certainly, it is not going to happen the next day but listening to the inputs from the various members of the committee and working groups we spent more time providing reasons why we should not rather than why we should. This is sad and the Dept of Human Settlements certainly did not contribute in any way to the discussion. Timber does appear in their Red Book but true to form, our government departments are very good at producing papers and such like but poor in the delivery stakes.

Recently I saw an email from the Convener at DTIC asking the organiser whether there had been any communication with the members of the Timber in Construction group. The response was they would get onto it! Sadly, they did not say when, so we wait.

We have Universities that are doing great research into timber in construction, we have architects that are in their own way designing timber homes/housing, and we have contractors building but this is very much for individuals and not mass housing. Then we have the lawmakers and the enforcers (the few we do have) blocking timber housing at every turn. Of course, we must be concerned for safety, fire and all those things which ensure a housing environment fit for living.

Much work has been done in the timber business in terms of development of product, treatment of wood and we only need to look at the growth overseas in timber housing and in Africa as well to know that we are way behind. Is this because we really do not care – I do not think so. Is it because we just cannot get our act together, maybe. Is it because we must jump through a whole bunch of hoops to get title deeds and many approvals, definitely so. And is it just too much effort to change our habits, most definitely and this applies to all role players. We need to do this together – so the question is simple – do we stay as we are for the rest of ours lives (and keep people in shanty towns, unsafe and in danger) or do we change to expand to other materials, not alternatives as that indicates less than/inferior?

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