Meetse-A-Bophelo: a primary school built in just 12 months thanks to a light steel structure

The innovative steel-constructed Meetse-A-Bophelo (Waters of life) Primary School in Mamelodi, East of Pretoria, was built in just 12 months instead of the normal two years required for a conventional brick and mortar structure. It constitutes a major contribution to the education challenges in the Mamelodi region.

Detailed information

In 2009, ArcelorMittal South Africa initiated a 250 million ZAR school building project (about 17 million EUR) through which ten schools were built in underprivileged areas around the country. In 2010, with the building of The Meetse-A-Bophelo Primary School, the Mamelodi Township in Tshwane was the first community to benefit from this multi-million rand project by ArcelorMittal South Africa Foundation and ArcelorMittal Construction.

School profile

Meetse-A-Bophelo Primary School was designed to easily accommodate 1200 learners at any given time. The net area planned for the buildings constructed was 3367 m2 with a further 1400 m2 of walkways and undercover seating areas.

Amount of steel

Portal frames: 101 tonnes
Other steel sections: 17.33 tonnes
Lightweight steel: 8.10 tonnes
Chromadek roofing: 28.47 tonnes
6 0mm Arval panels (total area 4000 m2): 45 tonnes
Total tonnage: 199.90 tonnes

Almost 400 Arval steel panels were imported via ArcelorMittal Construction’s Haironville plant in France. The multi-coloured panels contain a polyurethane foam filling and take minutes to insert into the structural steel framework exterior.


The schools consist of:

  • an administration building - meeting rooms, offices for the principal and vice principals, staff room, reception, kitchen, and toilets
  • a media centre which includes a computer room and library
  • classrooms which can accommodate 1200 learners
  • a laboratory
  • an ablution building near the sports fields
  • a nutrition centre which includes a kitchen and storeroom
  • a workshop
  • a caretaker's house (two bedrooms, kitchen/lounge, bathroom)

Design features

The architect designed the classrooms in three wings around a central nutrition area in order to:

  • group the learning phases together
  • maximise the area of north-facing facades to promote natural ventilation, heating, and cooling
  • provide a footprint that can accommodate different site conditions, as any gradient over the site is compensated for by the ramps and steps leading from the central core nutrition centre; the ramps provide access to the various buildings for pupils in wheelchairs


The new school was constructed on the site of an existing school. This meant that the existing school had to remain operational while the new buildings were erected, which increased the time required for the completion of construction. The project manager estimates that a similar school on a greenfield site could be constructed in eight months. The GDE currently allows two years for the construction of a school of this size.

The steel structure school can be produced in kit form with the benefit of no-fuss assembly wherever the need arises to educate people in communities.


A total of 37 428 person days were used to construct the school with 23 788 unskilled and 13 640 skilled person days. Of the total wages paid 1422 days were paid to women and a further 9108 days were paid to youths (persons under 35 years).

Labour on site was exposed to various technologies not normally found in domestic or school buildings. These included:

  • raft foundations
  • steel portal frames
  • lightweight steel construction
  • Arval panelling
  • windcolor steel windows and flashings
  • the Vela Modular Building System consisting of expanded polystyrene (EPS) in lightweight steel framing
  • the Ikaya Future House System consisting of EPS core and high tensile, galvanised wire mesh structural cage
  • solar heating

The building of the school also brought other socioeconomic benefits to Mamelodi. At any stage there were between 60 to 80 workers on site, all previously unemployed and from the township.

Thirty-seven women from the surrounding community, who previously volunteered at the school attending to cleaning and the school feeding scheme, received formal training in vegetable gardening. The vegetables grown in the garden in six low-tech vegetable tunnels augment the feeding scheme at the school. A partnership with ChemCity ensures that the women have support in maintaining the tunnels.


The budget for the development of the school was 34.8 million ZAR (excl. VAT) (around 2.4 million EUR). The budget included all furniture and fees, but excluded extensive landscaping over the whole site.

The prototype building at Mamelodi not only makes extensive use of steel in the different building components, but also proves that steel can be used cost effectively and aesthetically.

The Meetse-A-Bophelo Primary School constitutes an important contribution to the community. This fact was acknowledged by the judges of the South African Steel Award 2010, where the project was honoured with the Community Development prize.

Mandela Park Primary School in Slovo Park, Mthatha

The second school in this project was finished in 2013. Following the model of the school prototype in Mamelodi, ArcelorMittal South Africa handed over this new school to the country's Department of Basic Education in July of the same year.

ArcelorMittal Foundation

ArcelorMittal South Africa Foundation has set aside 250 million ZAR to build innovative, steel-dominated structure schools in the coming years. They are going to be constructed in areas currently dominated by unstable mud schools.

ArcelorMittal South Africa Foundation spends 80% of its annual budget on educational projects, including the running of science centres in Sebokeng (Sedibeng Municipality), Saldanha (Western Cape), and Newcastle in KwaZulu Natal.

Text: ArcelorMittal South Africa Foundation (adapted)

Project information

  • Mamelodi
  • South Africa
  • 2009 - 2010
  • Architect:
    Geldenhuys and Jooste Architects
  • Developer:
    ArcelorMittal SA
  • Owner:
    South African Department of Education
  • Engineering firm:
    Ilifa Africa Engineers
  • Contractor:
    Jomi Project Management (steelwork), Lexkon cc (general)
  • Photographer:
    ©ArcelorMittal South Africa