4 July 2012

Namibia: Cheap Housing Concept Cold-Shouldered

Windhoek — The patent that could be the solution for low-cost housing in Namibia could be lost to the country, if the Kavango Block Brick idea is sold to interested South African investors scrambling for the product that has been cold-shouldered locally.

During the formulation of the National Development Plan (NDP) III in 2007, it was established that the housing backlog in the country stood at 80 000, but this has now more than tripled to 300 000 units.

Namibia faces a low-cost housing shortage that is driving prices through the roof and hampering first-time buyers from entering the market. Kavango Block Brick was seen as one of the innovative solutions, especially by the lower and some middle-income groups in Namibia.

The building system, an interlocking system, which reduces building time by 40 percent, has partly received the blessing of high-ranking government officials like the Minister of Trade and Industry, Dr Hage Geingob, and Dr Nickey Iyambo, the patron (in his private capacity), who officiated at the opening of the K-Brick factory, as well as financial support from the Development Bank of Namibia, but to date no significant contracts have been signed.

Both the South African Bureau of Standards and the National Home Builders Registration Council of South Africa have approved the innovative building system.

The company, Kavango Block Brick, has now contracted the services of Abercrombie Investment Management to market the building system in South Africa and the rest of the world.

"This is not a local brand, but a world brand," was the response of Liston Meintjies from Abercrombie Investment Management, who only came to know about the K-Brick a week ago.

"The K-Brick is a fantastic solution. I am very excited at what I see," said a very enthusiastic Meintjies.

Meintjies and his company's role are to sell the patent or to build houses in South Africa or elsewhere in the world using the K-Brick. At least three listed big companies in South Africa have expressed keen interest.

In a bitter twist of irony, the sale of the patent means Namibia would have to import the system from South Africa at a higher price, although it is a Namibian product.

Kavango Block Brick has already built houses in Wellington, Western Cape, as part of the 2009 International Housing Competition that saw international participants from as far as Canada, Belgium, Germany and Australia, to mention only a few.

The K-Brick walked away with three prizes in three different categories, and is therefore an award-wining concept. It only took the company two days to secure approval from the local authority to get the building plans approved for the construction of the Wellington houses.

In South Africa, the K-Brick is expected to get bigger projects and franchises, since the system is already approved in that country.

Stumbling blocks identified in the Namibian market include the processes that the company has to go through to get to the point of delivery, be it financial or plan approval from local authorities.

Lower-income groups are eager to embrace the new building system, although they might have to acquire it more expensively, if the patent is sold and has to be imported from South Africa.

Late last year, Kavango Block Brick marketed its first introductory special in which it offered a four-bedroom house for approximately

N$200 000, but to date no houses have been built, because of stifling bureaucratic red tape which delayed the approval of building plans and other administrative impediments.

Heinrich Schroeder, founding member and K-Brick entrepreneur, says even the local commercial banks have come on board and are willing to finance home loans for dwellings built using the system.

"This proudly Namibian building system has been developed with one mindset only, which is to reduce the cost of construction and to shorten the construction time for houses," Schroeder said at many occasions. The K-Brick range consists of the 220 and the 140 range blocks, manufactured according to engineers' specification strength ratings.

The only significant difference between the K-Brick and conventional masonry blocks is that the K-Brick is designed to interlock, which ensures speedy construction and ensures a true isometric wall elevation.

This building system is believed to reduce building time by 40 percent and to realise savings of up to 25 percent on building costs. The company is also planning to conduct training for building inspectors.

Countries such as Zambia experience a monumental two million housing backlog, while South Africa has a 2.4 million housing backlog and are potential markets for the K-Brick. Schroeder said they receive numerous enquiries from both local and international people interested in the building system.

According to Schroeder, they had even approached the Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development, during the late John Pandeni's time.

However, although the late Pandeni was very supportive and receptive to the revolutionary concept, unfortunately he did not live long enough to see it materialise.

Schroeder has approached the current line minister and is still waiting for an appointment. The National Housing Enterprise has been approached too, but the parties are still "talking".

The NHE failed to comment when approached by this newspaper.

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