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Giving ‘roots and wings’ to the Rooidakke community
Author: Division for Social Impact
Published: 18/10/2018

​​​The provision of affordable housing is key to improving quality of life and ensuring that household members have a secure asset to ensure a better future.

The reality is often different because of the sub-optimal quality of houses handed over to beneficiaries. The quality of houses has often been so inadequate that the municipality could not confer title deeds, meaning that the houses are not legally recognised as transferable assets.

In order to address this, a collaborative initiative was established between the Stellenbosch University faculties of Engineering and Economic and Management Sciences, the University of Bath in the UK, the Western Cape Department of Human Settlements, the local municipality, building contractors and the Rooidakke community.

The aim of the initiative is to introduce an accountability intervention in the construction of subsidised government housing so as to improve the quality of the houses being constructed.

A pilot project was initiated in Rooidakke, a community just outside of Grabouw, based on the hypothesis that additional oversight could improve the quality of the houses, and in doing so, improve the satisfaction and sense of ownership of the beneficiaries.

The economics of the situation is very difficult to resolve. Due to a high demand for housing, there is a serious backlog of houses that need to be completed. Inflation and inadequate housing subsidies mean that poor-quality labourers have to be employed from the community, with little or no skills. The construction company then has to transfer these skills to the labourers, who subsequently leave for better pay elsewhere. This in turn leaves semi-skilled labourers to train unskilled workers, resulting in quality issues, and in the longer term, more resource being required to rectify these issues.

But who is responsible and can anyone be held accountable? Is it government, the construction companies, the labourers, budget constraints or the state evaluators?

Students from the Department of Civil Engineering engaged in weekly visits to the building sites to perform inspections. The students then reported their findings to the contractors so that issues could be rectified and feedback could be taken into account. Training was also given to field workers recruited from the Rooidakke community to empower them to assist the community with providing feedback.

Afterwards, a survey was conducted to gauge the satisfaction of the beneficiaries, who all indicated a much higher degree of overall satisfaction with their new homes. Beneficiaries were also equipped with the knowledge needed to provide their own feedback when issues arose.

“The collaborative work done by the students was instrumental in bringing all the stakeholders together to discuss problems and work on solutions together, thereby enhancing working relationships and dealing with quality issues as they arose, rather than after the fact. It has also given the students insight into real-life problems in a working environment,” says Marisa von Fintel, lecturer with the Department of Economics of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences.

The next steps for the initiative are to expand the scope of the project through the development of an app to capture real-time inspection checks and the introduction of workshops for all related parties.