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Mathew Goniwe Hostel and Precinct

Part 2 Project 1998
Ian Catherall
Marley Tjitjo
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Port Elizabeth South Africa
Joint Project by Tjitjo & Wintermeyer

Matthew Goniwe Hostel and Precinct, Zwazakhele

Hostels as a way of housing cheap, black, male migrant labour for industry, was the practice in South Africa for over a 100 years. Although the policy was formally ended in 1986, these places remain and are now being used to accommodate families in spaces originally designed for persons living on their own. As a consequence, hostels everywhere have become overcrowded unsanitary, and spiritually depressing.

The Mathew Goniwe Hostel in Kwazakhele consists of serried rows of communal residential blocks that have been informally divided up into family units. These are uncomfortably small, with poor lighting and ventilation. Communal services mean little privacy. The majority of the some 13 000 inmates are not formally employed and rely on the dole and piecework which on average brings in less than R800.00 (± 80 pounds) per month for each household.

This project questions the historic approach to planning in South Africa and attempts to provide alternatives. Instead of the prevailing pattern of spread housing, it proposes an organic, high-density model whereby the residents themselves participate in the production of a liveable and economically sustainable environment. There are many social and economic advantages to this, the main one being the preservation of connections within the community and the generation of the 'spirit within'.

The integration of the hostel complex with the surrounding township of family homes will remove the stigma and isolation attached to 'hostel living'. This, in turn, will become a catalyst for the urban renewal of the whole surrounding area.

The split that present zoning creates between places for living and places for working is dealt with by introducing an interwoven pattern which caters for small-scale urban-agriculture, light industries and includes grazing fields and "kraals" for animals creating a link with rural tradition.

The design proposal permits a variety of different options for the development of individual dwelling units. The participation of the residents in decision making will ensure the eventual tapestry will be rich in variety and complexity.

The proposal contradicts the historic military industrial approach to housing which reduced solutions to the lowest denominator of fact, figures and in humanity and which has regrettably been continued in the post-apartheid era.
Ian Catherall
Marley Tjitjo


When the hostel ceased to be used for single, migrant laborers and was given over to family use by the new government of South Africa, the rigid rectangular structures with communal basic amenities such as washing, bathing and cooking at distant points proved extremely difficult to adapt for family life. The degrading environment soon became a breeding ground for alcoholism, violence and acts of crime.

Early in the project it became apparent that poor accommodation was only one factor in the broader problem of a generally unsustainable living pattern. It was realised that both the process and the final solution for a better standard of housing had to suggest a new social consciousness within the community that embraced living in harmony both with the environment and one another. These objectives were discussed on a structured basis as well as informally between design staff and the student designers, B. Wintermeyer and M. Tjitjo and reviewed on an ongoing basis.

In considering their proposals in physical terms, students were encouraged to develop their ideas through an understanding of an appropriate order and hierarchy of buildings, spaces and process. Elements in this network included;


- defining front and rear yards, vehicular and dedicated pedestrian pathways


- patterns of exterior spaces for family use, clusters of family units, play grounds and civic spaces.


- opportunities for income generation through jobs, entrepreneurial activities, co-operative urban agriculture.


- possibilities within the layouts for upgrading /adding living spaces as the need arises, and methods by which this process might be funded.


- how the objectives might be achieved with minimum disruption and without evacuating families from the area.

The strength of the design developed by B. Wintermeyer and M. Tjitjo, lies in their selection of a conventionally neglected area of concern for their project and then using an holistic approach to sensitively deal with major issues. Their design proposal shows how limited resources can be used to maximum effect in transforming an ugly, anti-social resource into a viable life-sustaining environment.

1998
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