Bay man sells unique housing concept to countries across the globe

Moladi founder Hennie Botes wants to be the ‘Henry Ford of sustainable mass housing’
File picture: James Oatway

A Nelson Mandela Bay construction company has just signed off a deal to build more than 1 000 homes on the other side of the world.

The recipient, the tiny Pacific island nation of Kiribati, is southwest of Hawaii in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

It’s an unlikely destination for a South African product, but the reputation of Port Elizabeth’s Moladi, and the revolutionary plastic mould they use to build houses, is opening doors around the world.

They’ve already built hundreds of thousands of homes in countries from India to Mexico and next week Moladi founder Hennie Botes is due to fly to Saudi Arabia at the invitation of the Saudi housing minister to discuss a possible project to build one million houses.

Back home, Moladi has been struggling to get involved in tackling South Africa’s affordable housing demand.

However, the reason Botes did not leave for the Middle East this week was an appointment with Nelson Mandela Bay executive mayor Athol Trollip and metro human settlements chief Nqaba Bhanga.

“This is the first proactive visit we have had from any South African government officials so we were impressed,” Botes said.

Shevaughn Botes, Hennie’s older daughter and one of three women including her younger sister Camalynne who run the company, said 1 156 houses would be build in Kiribati.

“The client is the Kiribati Housing Corporation and three formworks of different sizes will be shipped over with one trainer,” Shevaughn said.

“It’s very exciting and we’re working out who’s going to go.”

This formwork, a lightweight, removable and reusable plastic mould, is Moladi’s cornerstone, Botes’ invention that made the rest of the Moladi design possible. The formwork panels, connecting rods and spacers are manufactured at a factory in Uitenhage, licensed out usually to a housing department and then put together on site by the beneficiaries, with the guidance of a Moladi trainer.

With the formwork clipped together and erected like a child would build a Lego model, the pipes, doors and windows inserted, a mix of concrete and a special Moladi additive are poured into the wall, floor and foundation moulds.

The next day the formwork is unclipped and the house is ready. No plastering was needed and only the roof needed to be fitted, Botes said.

“The reduced building time, simple transfer of skills and easy transportability and reusability of the formwork mean we can deliver a home that’s not only six times stronger but also half the price of a bricks and mortar house.”

Accolades and attention from a raft of international agencies, including the World Economic Forum, United Nations Development Programme, Rockerfeller Foundation and Smithsonian Institute have endorsed this pledge.

Botes, a large affable man who started out as an apprentice tool and die maker with the railways after matriculating in Durban, said he was still overawed – but now sure of his calling.

“The house is the base from which many of our other social problems can be solved,” he said.

“Here in South Africa, if we empower rural communities to build their own homes, for instance, we can stop the urbanisation that’s draining our resources in the cities.

“Instead these rural communities can be encouraged to stay on the land, grow food and market it to the cities.

“I want to be the Henry Ford of sustainable mass housing.”

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