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Bongani Mafu, converting shipping containers into alternative live, work and play spaces in SA

30 November 2021 | Insights Team

Bongani Mafu, Chief Designer and Director, Elementary Group

Born and raised in Kagiso, Bongani Mafu’s move into the world of architecture and interior design has been rapid. After completing a diploma in architecture, Bongani accumulated early experience as a senior draftsman, working with multi-disciplinary companies. In 2005 he joined Soda Designs, an internationally award-winning design and turn-key project management studio specializing in bespoke exterior and interior design solutions. This is where Bongani’s passion for combining interior design with his architectural draftsman training first sparked. And the rest, they say is history. Today Bongani Mafu describes himself as an Architectural Technician and is the Chief Designer and Director of Elementary Group dedicated to designing buildings “that are both functional, inspiring and promote good earth stewardship.”

New-age entrepreneur

Recently completed shipping container conversion: Loshki Restaurant, Kagiso

Two years ago, a friend of Bongani’s decided to use his retrenchment package to start his own business. He approached Bongani for assistance with premises with limited capital. “At the time,” says Bongani, “I was very interested in converting shipping containers into habitable multi-purpose spaces. I recognized this as the perfect opportunity to provide a cost-effective solution to my friend. This was my very first shipping container conversion design project. We created a fast-food chicken restaurant made completely out of recycled shipping containers. We came up with the concept and a great look and feel, discovering that if sales were not great in one location, we could easily move the restaurant to another!”


Container retail space: Flamingo Bar

“From that point on demand started to build with projects coming in one after the other. Today shipping container conversion constitutes over 70% of my business. In South Africa with the economy as it is, Covid-19 and growing unemployment, more are more people are opting to use their retrenchment packages to open their own businesses. From offices to B&Bs, student or rental accommodation, retail to residential space, restaurants, and so on, we design all kinds of solutions out of repurposed shipping containers. They are made out of metal which is very strong and durable and the container floor is actually constructed from hardwood, a good base for flooring. For obvious reasons we try to source containers that are both airtight and watertight.” Says Bongani. ”

Consent of use

“Shipping containers, by nature are not fixed structures. They can be converted quite quickly at a reasonable cost and put to use. Consent of use is obtained from the local council as certain regulations are required to be compliant, such as fire, health and safety, and so on. Also, when designing double-storey containers, for example, we consult with an engineer to ensure that it is structurally sound. While converted shipping containers are not yet formally recognised by council, we do apply to council to obtain the required consent of use from them. With my architectural background, I design according to the regulatory guidelines.” 

Interested in learning more? 

Bongani Mafu

Chief Designer and Director, Elementary Group



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Insights Team

We're the "thinking arm" of Leadhome, combining expertise in data analysis, modelling, sociology, geography, and philosophy to interrogate current trends in the South African residential property market. Proudly contemplative since 2015.

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