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By Pardon Gotora
When we were growing up down in rural Uzumba, pole and dagga was the force to reckon with in the construction of homesteads.
Brick and mortar seemed elitist in our view, let alone cement-made mortar. Gradually, it then sank in that brick and mortar were like Siamese twins and those were the buzzwords in house construction.
During holidays, we had the opportunity to visit or pass through Harare, where brick and mortar was the epitome of any construction project in town. A couple of decades later, in the 21st Century, brick and mortar are still the “men of the moment”.
Admittedly the technologies rank among the best servants in the world, but are they the only ones? Year in year out, institutions of higher learning train and deliver thousands of engineers and engineering technicians, but are we utilising them enough as a nation?
Was brick and mortar the last that engineers of this world prescribed for Zimbabwe?
Zimbabweans are ubiquitous in every part of the globe, just like air. The country prides in over 92 percent literacy rate. One scholar once said: “Illiteracy is no longer about inability to read and write, rather it is about failing to retrain and develop.”
We are so engrained in brick and mortar that many initiatives for new building technology have suffered stillbirth. We have a whole entity meant to carry out research in new technologies in the Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre (SIRDC). How much have been invented from the big institution in terms of building materials, and how has been the response from the market? Let us assume that the institution’s plate is already full with other technological research requirements other than housing.
I am inclined to suggest that the powers that be should consider introducing a new baby whose mandate and core business is sorely to undertake housing research and will be accountable to the minister responsible for housing. The name could be anything close to National Housing Research Institution (NHRI), borrowing a leaf from the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR). Here are a few suggestions of the functions of this proposed new baby. They can be improved with further research and brainstorming;
Research on sustainable new building technologies, in view of climate change and affordability
Approve new building technologies and recommend for adoption
Advise the Minister responsible for National Housing on the appropriate and sustainable new building technologies
Advocacy and consumer education on the approved and adopted new building technologies
Research on alternative housing financing models and advise the minister responsible for housing
Research on housing statistics such as the housing backlog and housing stock
Maintain a live and functional housing database.
In order to be a legal entity, there is need for an Act of Parliament to back the institution, which in my view should be a quasi-autonomous body. This prompts me to advocate for a review of the Housing and Buildings Act (22:07), to provide for the creation of the new baby as well as to align it to the new Constitution, or alternatively to craft a new Act altogether.
The institution should be diversified and manned by engineers, architects, quantity surveyors, planners, development practitioners, sociologists/physiologists, economists, IT experts and research experts among other relevant professions. It can be headed by a director or director-general who reports to the Minister responsible for Housing. As alluded to earlier on, their core mandate is to research and recommend for adoption, new building technologies and models and advise the minister as well as consumer education.
As a nation, it will be naïve to fold our hands and admit that only brick and mortar is the panacea to our construction requirements. Some are doing with interlocking bricks without mortar while others are doing with prefabricated materials. Why are we failing as a nation to replace brick and mortar, even in high rise buildings?
Pardon Gotora writes in his personal capacity. He can be contacted on [email protected]