Redefining Housing in South Africa: Ubuntu Design Group

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“People who live in informal settlements are some of the most creative people in the world.” 

One Young World Ambassador and Founder of Ubuntu Design Group, Wandile Mthiyane, founded Ubuntu Design Group to maximise the creative energy and spirit of these people, and works with them to design sustainable housing that retains the community and culture that they share.

Wandile, who grew up in an informal settlement in Durban, South Africa, was a delegate at the 2015 One Young World Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, where he presented his Ubuntu Design Community Half-House project. The project won the Resolution Social Venture Challenge and Wandile was given a Resolution Fellowship with $3,000 of initial funding for his project, and access to counseling from business-people around the world.  

“Ubuntu is a Zulu concept that means ‘I am because you are,’” Wandile explains. “It alludes to community, brotherhood, and love, and this community-centred approach is reflected in Ubuntu Design Group’s Half-House project.” The concept of the Half-House project is to design a building that can grow; families can use their creativity and expand their homes by adding other rooms as resources become available and as their needs evolve. Since Ubuntu’s motto is “listen to build,” they will work closely with the residents of informal settlements to adapt their designs to the needs of the community. Ubuntu will not simply provide basic shelter for the settlements, but will actively seek to preserve the culture and shared values of the community.

“Ubuntu is excited to help our first family,” Wandile says. “I will be travelling to Durban to live, work, and learn to create a home for the Mtshalis family—a home that will not only be a new living space for the family, but a space for the benefit of their community.”

The Mtshalis are a resilient family. Their father, Nkosinathi, survived a tragic road accident and lost his home to a storm. His sole desire is for a roof over the heads of his loved ones as the loss of their home made it necessary for the family to split into different living spaces, with Nkosinathi and his wife separated from their 15-year old son. They allowed their son to leave and live with another family because they didn’t want to fill his childhood with traumatic memories of their miserable living situation. Nkosinathi’s wife Fikisiwe, who also lives with a disability, explains, “I lift his father to an outside toilet, I feed him every meal he has, and I bathe him. Everything is difficult and we did not want to subject our child to that.”

The couple’s current shelter is cramped and unsafe. Although they receive a government disability grant, it does not sufficiently cover their living expenses. Fikisiwe cannot get a job because her husband requires constant care. “My husband goes to [the] hospital three times a month and we hire a car to transport him, which costs us about R500 (approx. $33) per trip.  We also provide for our son where he is and pay for his schooling needs,” Fikisiwe says. These challenges have made their dream of a safe and happy home that meets their needs feel far from their reach.

However, Ubuntu Design Group plans to turn the Mtshalis family’s dream into a reality. This current Half-House project aims to create a home that will meet their needs and also allow them to eventually run a day-care from their house. Thus, they will be able to create a sustainable living situation and simultaneously give back to their community.

Ubuntu Design Group is excited for the chance to make a difference and invites you to partner with them. “We need your help to create homes that preserve the culture, identity, and individuality of the communities that we will work with,” Wandile says. Ubuntu is currently fundraising for the Mtshalis family project. The project needs $30,000 to cover the necessary travel, construction, and overhead costs. Wandile says, “In the spirit of Ubuntu, ‘I am because you are,’ we’re calling all who are inspired by our collaborative method to help us raise funds to provide sustainable housing for the Mtshalis family, along with other residents of informal settlements in Durban, South Africa in the near future.”

If you would like to find out more about Ubuntu Design Group and the Half-House Project and how you can be involved, please visit, or go directly to our fundraising page at and search for Ubuntu Design Group Half-House Project.