WATCH | Redesigning shacks from the ground up

Phumezo Tsibanto.
Phumezo Tsibanto.
Image: Beautiful News.

All Phumezo Tsibanto wanted was a place to call home. For 20 years he had been on the waiting list for an RDP house. In that time, he lived in a poorly built shack in Khayelitsha, which filled up with water every time it rained.

Plastic sheets on the roof were his only remedy for the leaks. As a leader in his community, Tsibanto knew he wasn’t the only one living like this.

He recognised the urgent need to improve the conditions in his area. Rather than hope for change, Tsibanto took the first steps to rebuild his neighbourhood.

According to Statistics South Africa, over 10% of South Africa’s population live in overcrowded informal housing.


A remnant of apartheid policy, these shacks are a risk to inhabitants. Residents depend on communal ablutions that are hazardous to health and safety.

Homes burn down easily, and the cramped structure of the settlements prevent access for emergency services. But with the NPO Ikhayalami, Tsibanto is changing that. Partnering with Urban Think Tank and Design Space Africa, he’s helping build multiple-storey houses that take up significantly less land.

Called Empower Shack, these new structures are made from a combination of brick, wood, and zinc sheets. They are fireproof, water-resistant, and secure. Ben Nkuna from Ikhayalami explains the process.

“We rearrange the shacks so that we can create spaces for children to play and also pathways for people to move easily,” he says.

More than providing a roof over people’s heads, the functional houses are enabling a better quality of life.

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This year, the Empower Shack design was longlisted for the Royal Institute of British Architects International Prize.

As one of the first beneficiaries of the project, Tsibanto believes this is just the beginning. He wants to continue this work and ensure other people have access to safe homes to call their own.

“We are trying the bottom-up approach because at the end of the day it empowers the community,” Tsibanto says. “My dream is to improve the standard of living of people.”

Every person deserves a solid home where they can lead fulfilling lives. With creative solutions, we can build spaces of pride and dignity for all.