“The ASLA house is a really good and robust product,” says ASLA contracts manager Schalk van Eeden, who has been working for the company for over two decades. To illustrate he relays an incident of a bus driving into one of the frames on a construction site. “About 22 years ago, when we were finishing off Chris Nissan Park in Strand a bus failed to stop at a T-junction and drove into one of our frames. The concrete columns were fine, but the bus was written off.” Although this example is (one hopes) a rare occurrence, it does instil confidence that ASLA homes are built to stand the test of not only time, but a whole lot of other environmental factors.

Since van Eeden first started his trial period as a contracts’ foreman in Grabow in 2001, he has gone on to build a career with ASLA that has included overseeing the construction of approximately 20 000 units across mainly the more remote, rural areas of the Western Cape. These include nearly 3 100 houses for Matzikama Local Municipality projects for the communities in Vredendal, Klawer, Doringbaai, Van Rhynsdrop, Koekenaap, and in Lutzville, where ASLA is currently constructing the final 112 homes of a 362-home development.

ASLA DEVCO’s is appointed as Turnkey Implementing Agent for the municipality, for the above-mentioned towns. In the case of Lutzville the original approval was for 327 erven, followed by an additional 35 erven, increasing the project to 362 opportunities. Services for the first 327 erven were installed in 2019; the first 100 top structures (homes) were completed in 2021; the services for the additional 35 erven were installed in 2022; a further 150 homes were completed in 2022; and the remaining 112 homes were completed at the end July 2023.

“After we have been awarded the contract to build the units, I will visit the site where I will have a hand over meeting with municipal officers and DEVCO, and then we advertise for a community liaison officer,” explains van Eeden.

The community liaison officer, or CLO, is a very important person in the project team and is appointed from the particular community a project is undertaken in. “The successful CLO applicant usually does not have any construction experience, but will know the community and the town, and will work closely with the ASLA team for the duration of the project.”

The Lutzville housing project CLO was Desiree Cupido, a member of the community housing steering committee. This committee comprised of five members who worked closely together with the Municipality. They encouraged eligible community members to apply for the housing and had the responsibility to accompany beneficiaries through the process of becoming homeowners. The housing steering committee was also the guardian of the project i.e., as they are from the community, they ensure that the beneficiaries who did register were thoroughly vetted for their legitimacy.

Cupido’s role as CLO also included introducing community members to potential subcontracting opportunities on the project, so that its members could benefit through employment as well as home ownership. She participated in quite a few handovers, which she says were an absolute highlight of the role. “Dit is elke dag vir my ‘n plesier om te sien dat mense wat swaar gekry het, mense wat in hokkies gebly het hier bo, wat nie krag gehad het nie, wat met gas gewerk het… Dat hulle nou huise kry.” says Desiree. “En die mense is so bly! Dit maak my so emotioneel – hulle huil, en ons huil saam met die mense. Dit is die highlight part vir my!”

Her role as CLO saw her working closely with Koekenaap-born ASLA general foreman Pieter Joseph, who was responsible for running the Lutzville site. Joseph has worked for ASLA for seventeen years and has worked with van Eeden on several West Coast projects, including this project, Doringbaai and Vredendal. He has grown under van Eeden’s wing, and they share a strong sense of camaraderie, ownership of, and pride in what ASLA is trying to achieve on their projects.

A working day on site began at the crack of dawn, when the cool orange-red glow only hinted at the extreme heat that would settle in by midday. Joseph would arrive on site around 06h30, and his meeting with the foremen would be followed by a meeting with the machine operators to discuss the day’s deliverables. While he is responsible for the day-to-day running of the site including admin and managing expectations, his team would directly manage the local subcontractors including monitoring for quality and safety. As the subcontractors are remunerated based on completed tasks, they are often amongst the last to leave, finishing off billable tasks, as long as daylight allows.

Once the houses were completed a hand over follows, that includes a tutorial and a homeowner’s manual that details on how the house works (doors, keys, toilets) and how to look after and maintain it. While ASLA DEVCO representatives are present at the hand overs and facilitate the registration and presentation of the title deeds, the beneficiary selection is a process run entirely by the municipality.

The Lutzville project ran relatively smoothly, with only a few minor community matters impacting construction progress and home handovers. Recent beneficiaries include 82-year-old Tannie Clara (who moved into her home in February 2023) and Oom Karools (68), his wife (66) and their cat who moved into their home in 2021.

“Ek het al die tyd da bo gebly, no smaak dit vir my ek is in ‘n ander plek, en ek geniet dit dat ek amper nie kan slaap nie,” says Tannie Clara. She explains that in the past, when she was still living in a shack, when it rained, she would have to put out pots to catch the water from the leaks in her roof, and the wind and dust would penetrate her makeshift walls.

Oom Karools and his wife were also elated when they were told they would be getting a home, with a small yard that they soon cultivated into a garden. “Dit was kaal en woestyn agtig, so ek het gedink ek moet ietsie doen, ietsie lewendig plant,” says Oom Karools. When asked if he is happy, he laughs and says: “Ek is gelukkig hier, ek is retired, so kan opstaan as ek wil. Da is wel naweke ‘n bietjie joligheid in die buurt, maar dit pla my nie.”

As more ASLA houses began lining the streets, the area began morphing from construction site, into a colourful, buzzing residential neighbourhood. Beneficiaries began having access to services, like running water and electricity within the safety and security of their own homes – protected from all types of environmental factors. The move from a ‘hok’ (cage) as CLO Cupido described it, to a small, warm home to call your own, is indeed life changing for many.

ASLA teams have witnessed many of these life-changing moments, that begin with nothing but construction plant arriving on a barren site. Civil infrastructure and services are completed, and the housing team begins constructing the top structures. And the dream of a home begins to take a more concrete shape. “Every project is a great achievement for me personally,” says van Eeden, “as when we depart, we leave behind so much more than houses: we leave behind a whole community.”

With the overwhelming requirement for housing in South Africa, is it possible to catch up with demand? The task seems almost too big to fathom, but for now, ASLA is committed to bringing Dignity Through Infrastructure to individuals, one West Coast community at a time.

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