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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Trainees learn sustainable building techniques on permaculture farm

Motsamai Cindi (top) and Lucky Nakaase (bottom) utilize sustainable building techniques to build a workshop. PHOTO: KATIE ROSTA ’22/THE HAWK

Rosendal, South Africa — On a gray winter day in mid-June, Motsamai Cindi stood atop a half-finished sandbag wall, tempering sacks containing a mixture of 90% subsoil and 10% cement. Lucky Nakaase stood below, shoveling soil into a green wheelbarrow. Around them, the cold wind, descending from the Maluti Mountains into the Waaiport Valley, whipped the white sheets of plastic Cindi was placing between the wall’s layers.

The wall Cindi and Nakaase were constructing is part of a workshop building for Waaipoort Farm, a permaculture farm located about 8 kilometers (5 miles) from Rosendal, a small town in the Free State province of South Africa. 

Cindi and Nakaase are from the community of Mautse, across the highway from Rosendal. Mautse was created as a Black township by the apartheid government under the Group Areas Act of 1950. The young men work as trainees on the farm, learning sustainable building techniques under the guidance of Sid Organe, who arrived at Waaipoort in April 2021.

Lucky Nakaase, one of the trainees in Waaipoort Farm’s equity ownership enterprise, said he enjoys being part of the program. PHOTO: KATIE ROSTA ’22/THE HAWK

“The candidates are given the opportunity after the initial year to year and a half of training to plan, lay out, measure and build a complete structure under observation from scratch with the assistance of their co-workers,” Organe said.

At first, Cindi and Nakaase and another trainee struggled with the techniques, Organe said. 

“Now their standards are getting good [and] they can carry on, they can level, they can build,” Organe said. “But it’s a progression.”

When asked about his experience so far in the trainee program, Nakaase replied, “I like it so much.”

When it comes to recruiting prospects, candidates are referred to the program from contacts in nearby Mautse, Organe said. Those who are selected are immersed in sustainable building, or green building as it’s sometimes called, a design philosophy that prioritizes efficient resource use while simultaneously reducing impact on the environment and human health.

In addition to being good for the environment, Organe pointed out that the sustainable building methods he is sharing with his apprentices cost an estimated 50% less than conventional building methods. The average cost to build a low- to middle-income house in South Africa is around 6,500 rands ($407) per square meter, he said. 

“This place here is costing us less than 2,000 rands ($133) per square meter,” said Organe, pointing to the workshop under construction.

The base for the workshop’s sandbag wall is made of lime and repurposed glass bottles that are collected from local restaurants. The bottle foundation is Organe’s invention. Half-built bottle walls are scattered throughout the farm. Organe said some of these walls were started by the trainees as a practice run before venturing on to larger projects.

“[The bottle wall] prevents water from rushing through,” Organe explained.

After three years of gaining experience in sustainable building techniques, the trainees can start their own business in their community while continuing training as co-owners of the construction enterprise at Waaipoort. 

“Years four and five involve enterprise training, financial management, monitoring and decision making until the co-owners are able to take over the running of the construction enterprise,” Organe said. “Our nonprofit will hold a small stake in the enterprise from years four to eight until observational mentorship has been completed between years six to eight.” 

That aligns with Organe’s goals to equip individuals with skills they can use to support themselves. The unemployment rate in South Africa is 34.5%, according to the most recent South African government data. By comparison, the unemployment rate in the U.S. in June 2022 was 3.8%. For those who live in rural areas of South Africa like much of the Free State, unemployment rates are at least 43%, according to the 2017 National Income Dynamics Study.

“When you want to really solve poverty, you have to create companies or learners where everybody has got a stake in the outcome,” Organe said. 

Thomas Lindners (left) and Sid Organe (right) stand outside of Organe’s house, one of the many sustainable building initiatives already built or in the process of being built on Waaipoort Farm. PHOTO: KATIE ROSTA ’22/THE HAWK

That also means having a stake in the income. Organe’s methodology for the equity ownership enterprise he is trying to set up on the farm is based on those described in two books, “The Great Game of Business” by Jack Stack, president and CEO of Springfield ReManufacturing Holdings Corporation in Missouri, and “Maverick” by Ricardo Semler, CEO and majority owner of Semco Partners in Brazil. Organe said both companies and their CEOs have been specific inspirations for him when forming his program.

“The results of those two companies is that today both of them have over 5,000 owners,” Organe said. “The average wealth of the employees in 2013 was approximately $800,000. And both those companies have grown. They’ve actually done better than every single company on the NASDAQ and stock markets over the last almost 40 years.”

Thomas Linders, who co-initiated The Rosendal Permaculture Center at Waaipoort Farm in 2015, recently applied for Waaipoort Farm to be delegated as a free space, meaning that the land is neither owned by the farmers nor the province. Linders, who moved to South Africa from Switzerland with a diploma in curative education as well as two permaculture design certificates, said agriculture and alternative building have been in his blood since childhood.

“There was almost a natural progression,” Linders said. “I learned the agriculture on the African continent, in Johannesburg, [from a] wonderful mentor that really brought me into the African space.”

Construction has begun on accommodation units for future volunteers and trainees at Waaipoort Farm. PHOTO: KATIE ROSTA ’22/THE HAWK

Now in its seventh year, Waaipoort Farm is looking to expand its reach and diversity of knowledge. The men want to develop a complete academic and practical teaching facility that includes accommodation units for volunteer and student participants, communal restrooms and washing facilities, yearround food and dairy harvesting and processing facilities, and additional workshop buildings like the one Cindi and Nakaase are constructing. Already, work has begun on the accommodation units.

Organe and Lindners bounded up a steep, rocky hill overlooking the farm, led by Linders’ dog, Gruff, to show visitors the foundation of the kitchen and living spaces of the accommodations. 

The ultimate goal of all of this, Organe said, as he surveyed the unfinished structures, is “the self-empowerment of the individuals within the context of care for the environment as well as those that cohabit their communities and animals they are caretakers of.”

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