Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa


My boss complains about the construction industry in South Africa.

He says that it isn’t progressing, that they’ve been using the same building techniques for hundreds of years.

“Which techniques are those?” I ask.

“Slow, labour intensive ones.  We have too much labour here and not enough jobs.  They take as long as they can to build something so they get paid more or have a job to go to.  It feels like one step forward, two steps back in this country.  We’re inefficient here.  Technology has been invented that could do the job in half the time for a fraction of the price, but then you’d put people out of work.”

Even the building materials haven’t changed.

“We use bricks because those require local people to make them.  But I decided to try something new on Fleurhof [the project MHA just finished constructing].  We used aluminum framework.  It’s light and durable.  It’s recyclable.  It requires less maintenance, so it’s safer.  Women can lift the pieces too.  We have to force the construction to adapt and progress with the times.”

Labour politics.

Employment issues.

Safety concerns.

Sustainability questions.

Gender complications.

This is how I try to make civil engineering interesting – by zooming out to consider the bigger picture.


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