Change the world


Urban or rural poorer communities should not sit and wait for government assistance but rather should be empowered to build their own homes.


This self-help housing model was the essence of Nolwazi Qumbisa’s research, for which she earns a doctorate this week on 13 December from Nelson Mandela University in Gqeberha.

An active member of the Institute of Human Settlements Practitioners, Qumbisa lectures in the Built Environment Department at the Central University of Technology (CUT) in the Free State.

For her PhD in Construction Management, focusing on Human Settlements, Qumbisa proposed a sustainable self-help housing support model to address the lack of affordable accommodation in South Africa.

“I did my undergraduate studies and Master’s in housing because I have a passion for helping people solve their problems independently and to help them move away from the dependency of government” she says.

“In South Africa, the government subsidises the building of starter homes to meet the demand for adequate housing for people with lower incomes.”

However, she believes it’s time to revise how the country tries to meet the demand for housing.

Qumbisa theorised that self-help housing could be a useful alternative.

“Self-help housing is a term used to describe the incremental housing process where people build their own homes,” she explains.

“Instead of waiting for government or subsidised housing, people take charge of the entire  housing process. They can contribute in many ways, whether through collecting funds together like stokvels or physical labour.

“The significance is that with the possibility of a new government next year and South Africa’s current economic situation we need to revisit free housing or public housing.

“We must see how we can meet an over-burdened government by educating and empowering people not to wait for a ‘free’ house.

“They should rather start with the little that they have to save and build houses incrementally that are not confined by government policies.

“People need to be at the centre of their housing needs as they know best.”

Qumbisa’s doctoral research focused on the central region of the country, namely in and around Bloemfontein in the Free State, and Kimberley in the Northern Cape.

She asked: How can self-help housing provision become sustainable in this region?

Qumbisa then used the research responses to develop an effective housing support model, which showed how current self-help housing projects could be improved.

It became clear that the current models needed to be simplified to meet the needs of everyone involved: the beneficiaries, government entities and those who build the structures.

Qumbisa conducted extensive research, using interviews, observations and discussions and found numerous challenges.

There was, for example, not enough understanding of the Enhanced People’s Housing Process (EPHP) policy.

She found that weak or unclear project specifications lead to contractor misunderstandings or discrepancies in housing project implementation. This, in turn, led to poor-quality work or delays.

The conventional contractor-driven housing-delivery model also had numerous other issues. These included poor construction, corruption and mismanagement, profit-driven contractors, high contractor rates, project delays or incomplete projects, illegal occupation of incomplete projects, and riots.

The principal contribution of Qumbisa’s thesis is that housing policies, programmes and sector plans must encourage beneficiaries to play an active role.

“It was a comprehensive examination of the lived experiences and viewpoints of diverse groups of people.

“This yielded valuable insights that can inform policymakers, practitioners, and communities.”

She concluded that an effective self-help housing support model should be adopted, with a strong element of community participation.

“This may effectively address the challenges posed by informal settlements while enhancing the execution of self-help housing projects,” she says.

Formerly a project manager for Enactus in KwaZulu-Natal, a plans examiner at City of Johannesburg, and a candidate construction project manager at Rand Water in Johannesburg, Qumbisa has been lecturing at CUT for five years.

She has a Master's degree in Housing from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Contact information
Mrs Debbie Derry
Deputy Director: Communication
Tel: 041 504 3057