When President Cyril Ramaphosa mentioned smart cities in his recent state of the nation address, it was actually not a dream but already a reality.
This is according to Lebogang Zulu, chief executive of innovative building technology company Tshitshirisang Construction & Projects. Zulu says the technology to build smart cities is already available.
“And while everybody was imagining SMART cities as a concept, it is actually not, but it is a reality,” said Zulu, who boasts to be the sole local manufacturer of the Fortis Building System, as well as being the only black female in a male dominated industry.
These were Fortis Building System SMART houses in a sense that “when it is cold outside, and you walk into that house it is warmer. When it is hot outside and you walk into that house and it is cooler. So, it responds to the weather”.
The Fortis Building System SMART technology gives stronger walls, which are three times faster to erect, 20% cheaper than conventional building methods, bigger living space and a better acoustic and thermal performance.
The North West government last week announced that a part of its cost containment measures included alternative building for infrastructure, ring-fencing up to 30% of the allocated budget for this purpose.
Any deviation will have to be motivated with the office of the premier and treasury granting approval.
This comes on the back of the National Home Builders Registration Council’s (NHBRC) pilot project to build smart RDP houses – based on light-weight steel and mortar applications – for identified beneficiaries across all the nine provinces. Tshitshirisang became one of the project contractors, and last week handed over one of the units in Jagersfontein in Free State’s Kopanong Local Municipality to 85-year-old Manuku Afrika.
The NHBRC’s provincial inspectorate coordinator, Lebo Mponeng, said the housing backlog meant government would be unable to house everybody, especially with the current deficit budget.
“So we have to look at creative ways of assisting government to come up with unconventional building systems,” Mponeng said.
He said the new building systems did not have a proven track record in South Africa since this is a new concept.
However, through “trial and error, we are learning as we grow. We come up with enhancements, new developments and learn from global markets on how we can upscale this new idea of building with alternative building systems”.
The important quality components were designs, workmanship and material.
Zulu said the technology combined building innovation and sanitation innovation, in line with the merged human settlements and sanitation department.
The technology also combined innovative and conventional building ideas, where “innovation is in the still frame that replaces the brick part of construction, and the conventional part is the mortar that we apply on the wall”.
“So, it is a reinforced concrete wall,” she said, adding the house boasted stronger walls, but it could also be extended, using brick and mortar.
The Fortis Building System SMART house took 14 days to build and created jobs for locals.
“Only four skilled personnel came with the company, the other eight were community members who knew nothing about construction. So it does not require any level of skill.”
Zero-H²O Waterless infrastructure
The sanitation part of the technology relied on its Zero-H²O waterless system, said Zulu, adding that it was unrealistic that government would be able to roll out infrastructure at a pace that kept up with the demand.
The innovative Zero-H²O sanitation system did not need sewer or water infrastructure and used a ventilation system to extract the smell of human waste while also drying it.
Three people living in the house would take up to two years to fill up the underground fitted reusable Zero-H²O bag that serves as a storage tank for waste. If a child fell into the reusable waste tank “they would not drown because it is dry and the worst that could happen is that they would probably come out smelling horrible”.
The Zero-H²O technology is also suitable for schools, clinics, police stations and other social infrastructure, said Zulu.
Acclaim for smart RDPs
“Delighted and excited,” Free State Human Settlements MEC Tshidi Koloi said the Fortis Building System SMART innovative building technology was setting the bar high compared to the previous RDP houses government built for communities.
“Actually, we are getting there and as you can see this morning that, the type of house that has been built is totally different from initial houses of RDP. We are going to roll out the programme,” Koloi said.
Head of Free State human settlements department Tim Mokhesi said “the Fortis Building System SMART innovative building technology is actually the future”.
“With this type of technology, you could be in a position to deliver houses quickly as this type of structure takes 14 days to deliver one unit,” Mokhesi said. “If we are working very well, we should be in a position to increase efficiency in terms of the budget. The house is stronger than your conventional brick and mortar. But we also have a long way to go to teach our communities that there are other building methods that are more efficient and better that the conventional brick and mortar type.”
Mokhesi said: “The SMART house is solid and also much stronger. So, this is the route to go, of course, with the support of NHBRC in terms of quality assurance.”
Kopanong mayor, Xolile Mathwa, said he was impressed by the house. “I have actually indicated, informally so, to the MEC, that my wish is that they should consider rolling out the same programme of such units through the province.
“I would happy if communities in this municipality could also benefit from the programme. Housing is a priority so it is also my wish that my community should benefit,” Mathwa said.
Afrika, who was allocated the first house, said she was over the moon, while her peers said they wish to be next in line for the smart RDP houses.
Tshitshirisang also donated furniture to Afrika.
“If we are talking about a SMART house, then we must change the perception that people have about RDPs. An RDP is a home for somebody, just like anybody that has a house in Sandton. And just because it is a 40m² house does not mean it cannot accommodate the beauty that life has to offer,” said Zulu.
“It does not mean it must have some little kitchen sink that looks like a jail house. That perception is what we are trying to kill with what we have done with that house. We donated furniture that I as the CEO could walk into that house and live in that house and love it,” she said.
Based in Potchefstroom, in the North West province of South Africa, AV Light Steel Proprietary Limited is a Level 1 BBBEE light steel manufacturing company and leading supplier of lightweight steel roof trusses, floor joists, structures and associated products in various materials and profiles.
Providing service excellence, competitive prices and superb product ranges, the company’s proudly South African products are supplied to a range of clientele in the SADC region including Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, Mozambique, .Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Angola and DRC. Top Empowerment spoke to AV Light Steel CEO, Lebogang Zulu.
When she was introduced to lternative building technologies by her good friend, the Bafana Bafana footballer, Shoes Moshoeu, a wide horizon of endless possibilities opened up. At the time she was working for Eskom and was a trainee power station manager.
The comfort of a secure job was, however, not for this energetic powerhouse. “That is my biggest fear – to become complacent,” she says. “When I started my own construction company, I wanted to do my own thing.
Lebogang left Eskom to venture into alternative construction. After careful consideration Lebogang decided to make use of the Robust Building System for walls, roof trusses from AV Light Steel and sheeted roof coverings The past six years her company delivered 84 classrooms for the Gauteng Department of Education. Of those 47 classrooms were in 13 different locations, all built with these Innovative Building Technologies and in a space of 2.5 months. “I have a stack of Completion certificates. I regard them with the same reverence
as a graduation certificate,” Lebogang proudly proclaims
Her first breakthrough came with the Independent Development Trust (IDT) for which her company completed four new schools Lebogang realised early that she is not only selling classrooms, schools, houses or even high rise buildings. “We are selling time, quality and energy efficiency.” She explains that building a new school with brick and mortar would take two years. “We do a full new school in a space of 8 months.
She regards the first six years of construction as a preparation to venture into manufacturing. In 2017 Lebogang bought AV Light Steel of Potchefstroom from Vincent Bender, her preferred supplier of roof trusses. Of the 40 licences government has granted to manufacture Innovative Building Technology (IBT) materials, 36 are in the Western Cape and only four in the rest of the country.
AV Light Steel is the only licensed manufacturer in the North West Province and is thus excellently positioned .to fill a huge need in the Northern provinces. To expand the company to manufacture other elements of construction, she applied for hree loans. Two were from government funded entities and one from a commercial bank. All three were approved.
The scheme of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to fund black industrialists in mining and manufacturing granted AV Light Steel R40 million on the basis of 50/50 cost sharing.
This means that AV Light Steel needed to make an investment of at least R80 .million to access the funds. The first co-funder was ABSA who granted AV Light .Steel a loan of R15 million The second loan was from the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) who loaned R61 million at an interest rate of prime minus 2% considering the employment creation aspects of the company’s expansion plan AV Light Steel was only the second company to be funded by DTI Black Industrialists Scheme in the Northwest. “It’s a big feather in our cap,” says Lebogang with a huge smile The application process took a lot of hard work, persistence and perseverance. “I have one thing in my favour,” says Lebogang.
“I am very passionate about what I do. I look forward to transforming not just the construction industry but innovative building industry as a whole. You will not move me away from the alternative building space. With the huge backlogs in critical social infrastructure, IBT is the solution It took about 15 months to secure the Loans. Apart from refurbishing the factory, six machines were bought from overseas.The first was delivered in the third week of February 2019. By end of April the factory should be fully operational, manufacturing the Fortis building system, apart from roof trusses and sheeting.
Over the past few years there were many successes and challenges The biggest challenge was to get support and buy-in from both the private sector and Government as far as IBT is concerned. According to Lebogang there are not many platforms where the industry can share knowledge with government regarding IBT.
Success came when government recently approved that every social infrastructure project should include 30% IBT materials. Even though we live in the emancipated 21st century,
Lebogang still experiences apprehension when she, as a woman, steps into a male dominated meeting. “In the first few minutes I have to convince them that I know what I am talking about, before I can start giving a report!” says Lebogang indignantly. “This wastes valuable time and would not be the case if I was a male”.
Another success was the securing grant from Dti as a black industrialists and the loans from ABSA and IDC. “This is the much confidence our government has placed in our vision to increase participation of black women in the manufacturing space and transforming the construction sector!” says Lebogang Finding a balance between your work and “your life, is a big, big challenge,” says Lebogang, who is also the mother of a six year old son. Designated family time, an understanding husband and family provide a solid support system to help her cope The growth of the manufacturing sector is super important to the South African economy, says Lebogang. The manufacturing sector is in the best position to create much needed jobs. AV Light Steel will not only directly employs 97 people in Potchefstroom within the next 12 months but by training contractors to use their products, many more jobs will created. With every 10 contractors using their IBT systems an enormous 1 200 jobs can be created let alone the accelerated completion and delivery of infrastructure projects. The investments by ABSA IDC and DTI gave a cash injection of more than R100 million to AV Light Steel. Lebogang says that it will help the company to realise its mission to become the preferred innovative building system supplier in Africa. It means that more social infrastructure, homes and commercial buildings can be delivered in the shortest possible time Being a visionary leader, Lebogang has a clear goal about expanding the company: “Building infrastructure for the public sector is our main focus. I’m also looking forward to the day when all builder’s retailers have shelves with our products. The day when the 30% threshold for the use of IBT in public building projects turns into 50% or 60%, we have achieved our goals. We want to see more schools, penetrate the low cost housing markets and build health facilities. This is not a nice to have, but needed everywhere. The cost to erect one of our buildings as a clinic costs the same as the ”costs and operation of a mobile clinic.
Environmental awareness is strongly embedded in AV’s values. “A few years ago global warming was a foreign concept, but we all now feel the extreme heat in summer and extreme cold in winter. In small rural areas air-conditioning is unaffordable. Our structures are designed to be more energy efficient and leave a much smaller carbon footprint than brick and mortar structures”
IBT ticks all the boxes as far as energy efficiency is concerned. Walls and roofs are well Insulated, to keep the structure cool in summer and warm in winter. Careful consideration is given to fenestration, which includes the placing of windows.
Lebogang is very clear about her vision for the company in the next five years We want to build at least three other manufacturing“ facilities in other parts of the country. We cannot supply KZN from the North West Province, the transport will kill the client We want to train at least 30 to 40 contractors to use“ IBT and have them certified. Part of our vision is to supply materials Africa wide. We want to be part of an effort to take South Africa from a consumer society to more manufacturing and .export.
Lebogang Zulu was born in KwaThema, Springs. She studied mechanical engineering at the Peninsula Technicon in Cape Town and also holds a Master’s degree in Construction Management. She has two children, a daughter who is studying medicine and a six year old boy in Grade 1.