“I dream about mud,” Londani Mtshali says with a smile,
“Before I go to sleep I use the quiet time to think about challenges and come up with solutions to implement the next day.”
Londani leads the team that is building a community centre and creche in kwaMpumuza in Sweetwaters using rammed earth technology.
This method was chosen by iThemba Projects because it is truly sustainable both for the environment and for the community. iThemba believes in spending funding on building skills rather than building materials.
The process of rammed earth building involves digging out soil from the site, sieving to allow for proper mixing and compaction, mixing it with a stabilizer and ramming it between shuttering (wooden planks with gum pole upright supports) until it has cured. The shuttering is then removed and reused. Conventional rammed-earth buildings use machines to ram the walls, but iThemba chose to ram by hand. While this takes longer, it costs less and requires few outside materials so it can be replicated within the community.
Although Londani grew up in a house made of mud bricks that his grandfather built, he was unconvinced in the beginning. “I could understand this technology quite easily as it is a similar technique, but I thought this will fall because there is nothing to join the earth. I changed my mind when I saw how strong it was. What has surprised me is how high we can build and what big rooms we can create.”
The entire team is as passionate about the process as Londani, despite the hard, physical labour.
Over the years, Londani has developed into a good leader as well as a rammed earth expert, needing to focus not only on construction but on the group dynamics as well – making sure that injuries are treated properly, and personal issues dealt with. “I am fortunate that the guys work hard not only to prove themselves, but do not want to let the team down.” While everyone was unskilled when they began, they now have marketable skills and have already been asked to construct other buildings once the community centre is complete.
Recently, Londani (with his wife Lindo and sons Esihle and Abenathi) moved into the caretaker’s cottage (the first building to be completed) as he wanted to experience living in a rammed earth building first hand. Inside it looks no different from any other building and with walls at 1/2m thick it is well insulated, warm in winter and cool in summer.
After starting as a volunteer, Londani has become an important member of the iThemba team and a valuable contributor to his community. “I would like to see this idea spreading. People ask many questions because they see us putting our heart into this building and I feel proud.” Job satisfaction is not something everyone feels.
“I like working with the soil. It feels normal, beautiful and natural. You have to be dirty at the end of the day”, he laughs, “the shower must be full of mud. Then you know you have done a good job.”
Learn more about iThemba Priojects.
The telling of this story was made possible by the N3 Toll Concession, which support iThemba Projects and many other good causes beside the road.