In the business of building shacks

Shack construction is a popular business for people with building skills as demand for housing increases in the area of Philippi. Along the road, rows of empty pre-fab shacks of all colours – red, green, blue, white and even striped and patched designs – are displayed to attract clients wanting to move into new homes.

Some shack builders sit in front of their shacks waiting for customers while others leave their phone numbers posted on the shacks in the hope of a call.

Mara Mdunyelwa, originally from Transkei, has been selling shacks for six years along Sheffield Road after studying carpentry in Khayelitsha. His business, Nced’ Uluntu Services, attracts customers from Philippi, Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Strand and Grabouw, among other places.

Mdunyelwa’s shacks are painted red or green and put on display along a busy intersection. They are built using a standard model – four walls made of sheets of corrugated metal nailed together on a wooden frame, with one wall containing empty cutouts for the door and one or two windows. It is a simple, easily reproducible design.

Built, taken down, rebuilt
The shacks look unwieldy, but the builders have mastered the art of shack construction, deconstruction and reconstruction. After a customer purchases the shack, its walls must be taken apart for transport to the customer’s plot, and then the shack must be rebuilt in its permanent location. For Mdunyelwa, rebuilding takes roughly 30 minutes.

Mdunyelwa says his customers are often young people looking to move into a backyard or informal settlement who cannot afford a proper roof over their heads.

Competition is fierce and quality and reliability are important, he says.

“If you look at these shacks that I have just finished, for example, they are formal, beautiful and neat, and a person can live in this structure for up to seven years.”

“This time can be used for the person to organise money to get a subsidy house. So in essence we cater to those who are starting work and who are saving and budgeting to buy a house in future. Most of my customers are those who have finished grade 12 and are working constantly and cannot find the time to build themselves a shack,” he says.

A standard one-room shack, which is about three metres on each side, costs R2 800, while the biggest size, a spacious two-room shack, costs R5 500. If clients have problems with their shack, for example if it leaks, they can let him know and he will fix the problem at no extra cost.

Mdunyelwa also allows customers who cannot afford the full price of a shack to pay back part of the cost at a later date. “Our target market is not rich, so we make the price as affordable as possible,” Mdunyelwa said.

Another builder on Sheffield Road, who identified himself only as Obey, has been in the business for four years and says he started shack building for a living because there is a lot of money in it. He starts his day at 6am every morning and opens up shop along Sheffield Road at 8am. He says that on a good day he can sell two shacks.

Lelethu Rayi, a newcomer to Philippi, bought a one-room shack from Obey. He chose Obey’s business for quality and convenience. “I paid R2 700 for this shack and I bought it at Sheffield Road because in my opinion they make the best shacks. Their work is tidy and quick.”

A quick process
GroundUp followed Rayi through the process of installing his new shack.

First, the builder used a shovel to pry apart the walls of one of the white shacks on display along Sheffield Road. Rayi, Obey and an employee carried the deconstructed shack walls to the the transport truck, and within minutes all four walls, a window, door, and roof panels, were stacked on the truck, tied down, and ready for transport to the building site.

Obey and Rayi led GroundUp to the plot where his shack was to be erected, where a small, concrete foundation was surrounded on all sides by other houses and shacks.

Obey quickly got to work with unloading and building, using a hammer, nails, a few wooden poles, and a handsaw. With Rayi passing the materials to the builder, he nailed together the four walls of the shack frame on the new foundation. Then he climbed atop the shack to place and secure the roof panels, and finally he installed a window and door. Within 30 minutes, the shack was completed and Obey’s work was done.

“I am moving here because I wanted to move out of my parents house and live on my own,” said Rayi. 

This article originally appeared in GroundUp.


Hlophe complaint is an eerie echo

But the new complaint against the Western Cape judge president is also unprecedented

Mabuza contract grows by R10m

Eskom’s negotiators in a R100-million maintenance contract came back with a proposal to push up the costs

‘There were no marks on his neck’, Neil Aggett inquest...

The trade unionist’s partner at the time he was detained at John Vorster Square says she now believes his death was not a suicide

Study unpacks the ‘hidden racism’ at Stellenbosch

Students say they feel unseen and unheard at the university because of their skin colour

Press Releases

Boosting safety for cargo and drivers

The use of a telematics system for fleet vehicles has proved to be an important tool in helping to drive down costs and improve efficiency, says MiX Telematics Africa.

Silencing the guns and firearms amnesty

Silencing the guns and firearms amnesty

Gender-based violence is an affront to our humanity

Gender-based violence is an affront to our humanity

UK-Africa investment summit 2020: Think Africa Invest SA

UK-Africa investment summit 2020: Think Africa Invest SA

MTN unveils TikTok bundles

Customised MTN TikTok data bundles are available to all prepaid customers on *136*2#.

Marketers need to reinvent themselves

Marketing is an exciting discipline, offering the perfect fit for individuals who are equally interested in business, human dynamics and strategic thinking. But the...

Upskill yourself to land your dream job in 2020

If you received admission to an IIE Higher Certificate qualification, once you have graduated, you can articulate to an IIE Diploma and then IIE Bachelor's degree at IIE Rosebank College.

South Africans unsure of what to expect in 2020

Almost half (49%) of South Africans, 15 years and older, agree or strongly agree that they view 2020 with optimism.