Mud, rocks, toilets, cow dung and more…we’re building!

We’re finally, actually, reallyBreaking turf building! We had to delay for crazy unseasonal rains, and then we had to delay because Justin and Malcolm (the architect and engineer) had other obligations, and then it looked like it was going to rain again, but we started anyway, and we are so glad that we did.

The community has selected 20 men and 20 women to work on the project. Equality reigns here, and they have made sure that there is a fair spread across households (with each of the two sub-headmen being represented by ten men and ten women) and that the households who are most in need of income have someone working. They’re motivated and organised and they really know how to work. In terms of the community, all is going smoothly.

In other ways we’ve hit a few stumbling blocks. The Office of the Premier is still unable to commit fully to coming on board for the building of four classrooms through the Eastern Cape Alternative Technology Unit (ECATU). Until ECATU is sure they will be paid for their input, they are understandably unwilling to commit their time and resources. This means that at the moment we don’t have a skilled project manager, and since we don’t have the resources ourselves, we’re unsure whether we’ll get the classrooms done this year. We’re doing what we can, though, and we’re working on getting the hall and the Grade R building up and ready by the time this dry season ends. In the meantime we’re holding thumbs that the Office of the Premier will, indeed, come to the party.

We started by clearing the site of rocks (no mean feat), and clearing the rondavel areas of turf. At the same time we started digging the holes for the VIP toilets. These arrived on Saturday, and we were hoping to have the pits dug by the time they came in, so that Cemforce could whip them up. We seriously underestimated the time it would take to dig four 1.5 X 1 X 1.8 meter pits in very rocky soil and we didn’t have the pits ready by the time Cemforce arrived. The idea was that they would whip all the toilets up, on top of the holes, but given that we only had one ready, they put this one up as an example, and, now that we know how and have the holes ready, we will put the rest up.

The men have now moved onto levelling the actual building locations. They are clearing the turf and digging foundations, packing them full of rocks and building them up above ground level. Now that the earth is clearer it is obvious just how big the hall is, with a 15.4 meter diameter, there can’t be too many out there to rival it.

The women are busy brick making. I have discovered the joys of kneading earth into a nice sticky, weighty clump, thwacking it into a mould, pressing it into the mould corners, smoothing the top with diluted cow dung and lifting the moulds to leave two satisfyingly neat mud pies. These will be left to bake in the sun for a few weeks to become hard bricks. The cow dung stops them from drying too quickly and gives them a nice smooth finish. We need five thousand bricks for these two buildings, and the women managed to make 300 in a half day today. If they keep going like this, we’re going o be well on track.

We’re still somewhat short of money (which makes me hyperventilate a bit in the early hours of the morning), but we have once again had a wonderful generous outpouring from many people, so that we’re R30 000 better off when we last wrote. Many thanks to all who have generously donated, sent us looking in the right places, or simply continued to be supportive. You’re all welcome at the celebration we’ll have to have once these buildings are completed.

Anna

Clearing ground

Clearing ground

  1. Clare Rothwell

    Hi Jon
    I have no connection with Bulungula, just an interest in building with natural materials. I don’t know about mud bricks, but I have built a bit with cob – mixture of clay, sand and straw. The straw fibres and sand strengthen the bricks.

    Regards,
    Clare

  2. Jon Wright

    I have a question for you. I’m working with a group which is doing a very similar project in Mozambique, and we are working on possible solutions to a problem they are having. Many of the poor towns we are working with have structures made primarily out of mud bricks. However, they lack any durability and many dissolve and collapse when the rainy season hits.

    Now, this is all secondhand information, as I have not been on site myself, so I wanted to ask how your attempts are working out. It sounds like your bricks are similar to the ones being used in Mozambique. Are you having any problems with the rain? I notice that your bricks do contain cow dung, something different than those used in Mozambique, and I’m wondering if you have any other additives which increase the durability. Please let me know if you can.

    Best Regards,
    Jon Wright

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