As you approach the simple dwelling, a rooftop solar panel, an outdoor security light and a roof overhang make Nosango Plaatjie’s shack stand out amid the sprawling cluster of makeshift wooden structures and rusty corrugated iron dwellings where her neighbors live.
Welcome to the iShack, or improved shack, an innovative approach to housing that’s being tested in the windswept slum of Enkanini, just outside Stellenbosch, South Africa. The dwelling, developed by researchers at the University of Stellenbosch, is intended to raise the living standards of slum residents while improving their access to electricity and protecting them from extreme temperatures in an environmentally friendly way.
The iShack prototype is occupied by Plaatje and her three young children. It is fully equipped with a photovoltaic panel capable of producing enough electricity to power three lights, a mobile phone charger and an outdoor motion detector spotlight. Its windows are strategically placed to achieve better air circulation and sunlight heating, while the roof is sloped so that rainwater can be harvested during the winter months.
Plaatjie, a domestic worker employed once a week, says her family’s life has improved a great deal after relocating to the ecologically designed iShack. Their previous home was a cold, damp shack hastily put together from disused pallets and corroded zinc sheets.
62% of the urban population in Sub-Saharan Africa lives in slums, typically characterized by deplorable living conditions, a feeling of insecurity and inadequate infrastructure for basic energy, sanitation and water services.
Excluding the solar power system, the iShack costs about 5,600 rand ($660). And thanks to a grant by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the iShack project will be trialled over the next year.