Shack attack on slum dwellings
THE THREE shiniest shacks on the western-most hill of Enkanini, an informal settlement about a 30-minute drive from Cape Town, don’t look like much from a distance to the untrained, middle-class eye.But the small homes may well represent the best African innovation yet created to improve the lives of the millions of shack-dwellers across the continent while they wait for governments to build low-cost housing they can inhabit.
The brainchild of Sustainability Institute masters student Andreas Keller and Prof Mark Swilling of Stellenbosch University and the local municipality, the iShack, or Improved Shack, is a dwelling that enables its inhabitants to access basic services normally beyond their reach in an affordable and sustainable way.
The cost of the iShack is higher than that for a standard shack, but the benefits – it has solar power, temperature control, water harvesting and a cell phone charging facility, among other things – far outweigh what a traditional structure can offer.
According to Berry Wessels, a Sustainability Institute master’s student involved in the iShack programme, the government is committed to incremental upgrading of informal settlements. This means communities have to wait at least eight years before basic services and low-cost housing arrives.
“The iShack is a result of our research into how the lives of informal settlement dwellers can be improved in a cost-effective way while they wait,” says Wessels. “The original iShack cost 5,500 rand (less than €500) to build without solar and labour, but the design can be retrofitted to existing structures for less.
“The solar system – which can power three lights, an outside motion sensor spotlight and a cellphone charger – has a price tag of 2,500 rand (€227). We got together with people who live in these communities and brainstormed about what they needed to make their lives more comfortable, and then set about designing solutions.”
Wessels adds that temperature control inside the iShack was a big issue, as traditional shack structures are incredibly hot in the summer, and very cold in the winter.
“To regulate this we orientated the shack in a NNE direction with enlarged windows so you can change the conditions within the house by opening windows and curtains. The back wall is made from straw and clay. When the sun comes through the window the wall absorbs it, and then at night it radiates the heat, making it warmer inside,” he says.
The interior of the iShack is also insulated using old tetra packs and coated with a fire-retardant paint. Fires are one of the most dangerous aspects of living in an informal settlement due to the use of paraffin for cooking and light, and the flimsy nature of the traditional shack structures.
Enkanini’s community leaders chose Nosango Plaatjie and her husband Ntoya, and their three children as the recipients of the first prototype iShack.
Plaatjie says that while she wants to live in a real house, the iShack has improved her family’s quality of life significantly since they moved in six months ago.
“My old shack was made from wood and it was also very cold and flooded often. My children were constantly sick, but life is very different now. We have lights and it is no longer cold at night. The children are feeling better, which makes me happy,” she said.