Moladi: An affordable housing solution for the poor?

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Publication Date: 
01 January 2010
Pierre Coetzer
UN Millennium Development Goal: 
Ensure environmental sustainability

Moladi utilizes a unique plastic injection molded technology to produce cast-in-place mortar structures. The process allows unskilled laborers to use indigenous materials to quickly and cheaply construct high standard permanent buildings that are earthquake, cyclone and tsunami resistant. With the intended purpose of "housing the nations", the construction technology addresses four key challenges embodied in the low cost housing shortages facing developing countries, namely: lack of resources, insufficient funds, shortage of skills, and time constraints.

Driven by urbanization and demographic growth, the estimated need for affordable housing, at a global level, is 96,150 units per day. This represents a huge challenge but also constitutes an economic opportunity, and a potential tool for economic development. Any strategy to address this challenge will need to take into account the particular constraints linked to developing societies, including the lack of resources, insufficient funds, skills shortages, and environmental challenges. Moladi of South Africa is innovating to address these challenges and build sustainable housing for the poor throughout the world.

Given the magnitude of the task, it is legitimate to ask if traditional building techniques can possibly provide the only answers. Is laying bricks or concrete blocks on top of each other the most efficient and environmentally sound solution to build walls, for example? There is a strong case for innovative thinking in an industry that, at least in terms of basic building principles, has not changed fundamentally in centuries; and also for introducing completely different costing models. Additional challenges, when it comes to providing low-cost housing, include scarcity of suitable land, urban density, overcrowding, environmentally unfriendly building materials and the complications of servicing housing areas with ancillary infrastructure such as water, sanitation and electricity.

Adequate housing, therefore, is not just about houses, it is an important condition, (while not sufficient), to ensure the well being of communities. Combined with proper sanitation, access to energy and basic infrastructure, such as schools, sports facilities, shops, clinics and similar services, adequate housing plays a crucial role in expanding choice and opportunity at the lower end of the economic pyramid, and helps to build socially cohesive communities. South Africa, in this regard, presents its own specific set of issues. Centuries of racial discrimination, which culminated in the apartheid regime of 1948-1994, have entrenched deep inequalities between rich and poor, and between black and white. Almost every urban settlement in South Africa combines predominantly white, low-density ‘suburban’ residential areas characterized by urban sprawl similar to that of North America or Australia, with adjacent high-density shantytowns, consisting of small brick units and shacks mostly made of corrugated iron sheets, plastic and wood, inhabited almost exclusively by blacks. Housing is, therefore, one of the most crucial focus areas for the country when it comes to addressing the social, economic and political challenge of reducing the gap in living standards and healing the wounds of the past. It is a deeply emotive issue, given the extent to which the promise of adequate housing is an essential part of South Africa’s post-apartheid social contract, together with the presumed spill-over effects that decent housing could have on other aspects of human development. If South Africa can achieve a measure of success in this area, it could have a meaningful impact in many other parts of the developing world grappling with similar issues.

Moladi, a small family-run business based in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, has the ambition to do precisely that. It challenges conventional building techniques and claims that its building technology has the potential to successfully address many of the constraints currently holding back the provision of adequate shelter at the base of the socio-economic pyramid. The analysis of its model and results suggest that Moladi does indeed have huge potential when it comes to providing decent and affordable housing, particularly in its home country.

Much of Moladi’s destiny is linked to that of its founder, Mr. Hennie Botes, a visionary man who sees himself as an African social entrepreneur with the ambition to bring affordable housing to as many poor people as possible. This dream may be within reach for Moladi, possibly by way of entering into partnerships with, among others governments, by opening itself up to outside investors, and by devising a goal-orientated strategy to reach scale. 

This case study is above all, the story of a business that could hold one of the answers to the challenge of bringing affordable housing to the poor.

Citation: Coetzer, Pierre. "Moladi: An Affordable Housing Solution for the Poor?" GIM Case Study No. B082. New York: United Nations Development Programme, 2010