SA Affordable Housing March - April 2019 // Issue: 75 - Page 20

FEATURES production) and you would say, well no-one is making any money, the product is inferior and can be knocked in half with a trowel, this is an industry that won’t last, but to say that is to underestimate the sheer desperation in South Africa’s rural areas. This isn’t going away, and people and the environment are suffering as a result,” says Volsteedt. “I think anyone looking at this would say we as the Clay Brick Association, the formal industry or even society in general, need to do what we can to help, and to do that we need to start bringing some structure into the sector.” One company that has already grabbed the opportunity with both hands to aid the informal brickmakers is Makana Brick based in Makhanda (formally Grahamstown) in Eastern Cape. CEO Colin Meyer explains that so far the company has already sent their human resources manager and a production supervisor to Indwe for a week on two separate occasions to train the informal brickmakers in sound production practices and firing technology. “Several years ago we arranged for a number of the informal brickmakers to visit our factory in Grahamstown where they were able to experience first-hand more modern production techniques and last year one of our production supervisors travelled to various sites with John Volsteedt as a technical consultant and translator,” explains Meyer who says it’s important for formal brickmakers to try at least assist informal brickmakers by educating them in sustainable production practices such as the rehabilitation of mined land, water use and reducing energy consumption. According to Meyer there are profit driven reasons for aiding in the informal sector that go beyond the important moral concerns, and social benefits in aiding the environment. “Informal brickmakers’ brick sizes vary a lot and are generally considerably smaller than SABS specs. There is something to be said about assisting them to standardise brick sizes – this will make price comparisons more meaningful and assist consumers to get the best deal,” he explains, adding that inferior products hurt all manufacturers of a given product. “Quality is also an issue. We in the clay brick industry take quality seriously and it makes sense to assist the informal sector to do the same. It is not good for our brand if poor quality clay bricks go into the market,” Meyer says. Volsteedt hopes in the near future to sit all relevant stakeholders around the same table to try and gain consensus on what can and should be done to improve working conditions and general sustainability in the informal market. “Everyone has a different opinion. Competitors might want them shut down for making inferior products, while municipalities want them given as much aid as possible because that can alleviate poverty in their areas. The water department meanwhile might want to shut them down for causing pollution,” he explains saying that the CBA hopes to bring all the relevant players from government, the formal sector and even NGOs to have their say. “In the end we would like to see some regulation in the sector. Simply registering people or requiring them to undergo some form of training, would likely see quality rise and living standards improve. In other countries moves like this have seen small informal groups band together in communes to meet the requirements therefore improving quality and improving the standard of living for the 18 MARCH - APRIL 2019 Preparing the clay for brickmaking requires a great deal of water. An informal worker is trained in packing techniques. bricklayers themselves,” says Volsteedt who imagines it will be many years or even decades before anything like this can be successfully implemented in South Africa. Volsteedt’s attitude of co-operation is reflected in the report which concludes by saying, ‘The clay brick manufacturers will have to understand that the regulatory authority is not out to get them, and the regulatory authority will have to realise that their environmental and socio-economic obligations will only be met through a cooperative working arrangement between themselves and the clay brick manufacturers. The work already done by certain Local Economic Development offices at municipal level should be encouraged and lessons learnt in developing a formal stakeholder dialogue platform structure across the sector that can be accessed by the most basic and illiterate of clay brick manufacturers in this sector.’