tatjna (tatjna) wrote,

It don't matter if you're black or white - at least, it doesn't if you're MJ.

Hey, check me out all out-of-bed! And by my own volition too! Last night I went to bed at 12:30 after eating dinner as late as possible, and the aim was to get up at 8 - the idea being that I'd force my body back into this timezone. However I forgot to set my alarm, yet here I am, having woken up all by myself at 9 (after, as predicted by pombagira, weird dreams in which I caught anthrax and had an affair with my landlord WHUT). *pats self on back* Hi! Now I'm actually really home!

Other Things You Need To Know - I have a bite on my ass that I got in a scroungey cabin in a place called Riversdal where we stopped cos it got dark. Whatever bit me woke me up with its nibbling, and now I have a welt that flares up every two to three days. I have no idea what it was, but if it keeps going much longer I suspect I'll be showing my ass to the doctor going "Anything moving in there?" Yikes. (you needed to know that. yes you did)

OK, so yesterday the indication was that quite a few folks would like to come and eat pizza and look at a trimmed-down-for-the-general-public version of The Picture Archive For Africa. Which is neat. I didn't think so many would be interested. Anyway, it seems that this weekend would be most appropriate because after that we lose kittyfarmer back to USistan. It might be possible - my pics are all sorted and labelled, they just need transferring to some projection device and they're ready to go (36 of the 'good' ones, beagl). Maybe we can sort something out. I'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, I'm not gonna go nuts with photos here. For those not in Wellington who expressed interest, I will still post the pics and tell the stories, but it'll be after this Hey We Have An Excuse To Eat Pizza thing, so just a few days. Deal? And in the meantime, here's a thing about Africa that while I was aware, I wasn't aware, if you know what I mean.

In South Africa, you can build a shack almost anywhere and it doesn't have to meet building regulations. If you call it a shack you can build a box of corrugated iron with one of those ubiquitous blue tarps on top held down with bricks, and live in it. And people do. Lots of people.

This photo was taken driving into Cape Town from the east on the main highway. It goes for about 5 miles. It's hard to see but those little shacks are about half the size of my lounge and in most places if you stand with your arms out you'd be touching two of them. As you can see, these ones have power since they're close to Cape Town - there are at least 8 wires coming off that pole. What they probably don't have is water.

The first time I saw them I was shocked that people live in such conditions in South Africa. I'd seen people in shacks on TV, but I thought that was in places like Ethiopia and Rwanda, not in the Hex Valley - a prime viticulture area in the West Cape. De Doorns, where we stopped to gas up before heading to the karoo, is a grape town, and the grapes are just starting to come into leaf. Labour is cheap in SA, and there were about 30 people working in each field, doing grape things. Each farm had three or four little houses for their permanent staff, but like many horticulture businesses, there is a lot of seasonal labour. Enter the De Doorns shanty town - where who knows how many people live.

De Doorns has two turnoffs, and they literally lead to the Right and Wrong sides of the railway track. We took the wrong one. So there we were, two white women in a 3 tonne truck towing a bowser, ostensibly displaying our wealth (as rivet says, in that situation being white means you have dollar signs all over you), driving around a shanty town in which literally thousands of poor blacks were walking around the streets because the work hadn't started yet, trying to find our way out. I admit I was scared. Nobody threatened us, but nobody smiled at us either. It made me wonder how, with 95% of the South African population being black*, white people ever managed to be dominant. I certainly didn't feel dominant that day.

Anyway, as we discovered, every town, large or small, in South Africa, has one of these attached, occupied by rural blacks (and coloureds**). They were created by the same type of urbanisation movement that caused Maori to move to cities in New Zealand, only it happened in much greater numbers because of the shack laws allowing people to put up a shack anywhere. When apartheid got canned and the ANC got in, shack-dwellers were promised all sorts of things, one being proper housing - and the attempt has been made. You can see little mini houses on the edge of these shack areas, about twice the size of a shack (ie they'd fit in my lounge) but house-looking. But the sheer number of people involved means that it's a slow process, and as someone pointed out to me, if water were provided to shack-dwellers the same way it's provided to the privileged, Africa would not have enough water. Suffice to say the privileged are not interested in reducing their access to water to help less privileged have what we in NZ consider a basic necessity - running water. Johannesburg has FAR too many swimming pools in people's backyards IMO.

So while we were out tiki touring, there were riots in Cape Town, ending with an area of the shacks being cordoned off by the army. Why? Folks have been living in those shacks for up to ten years, been promised power, water, real houses - and they've got nothing. Meanwhile Cape Town just built a new stadium (remarkably similar to the Cake Tin) for the FIFA World Cup next year. Folks are understandably pissed off. I would be too if I had to fetch water from a tap in a bucket daily while living in a city that's selling itself as a great place to be. I'd also be plotting to make myself highly visible to the foreign visitors come world cup time. I'm curious to see what happens actually - how on earth do you hide 5 miles of shantytown from the public eye?

It shocked me when we turned on African TV one night and there was a soap aimed at black people. In the ad break there was an ad for a washing powder that 'gets out tough stains in your bucket!" Yep, the TV ads are aimed at people who don't have a washing machine - because that's the majority of people in South Africa, especially amongst the blacks. *loop back to the thing about water here* It was.. quite a culture shock for me to see this. Having a washing machine is one of the things considered necessary to be not living in poverty here. If that's the case, 90% of South Africans are living in poverty. Pause for thought.

Another thing I noticed was the romanticising for tourists - there were books about the shacks in tourist shops, where in the photographs you could see the area around them had been tidied. Compare this:

(from google images)

With this:

(taken in hermanus by me after a wrong turn)

There are even books about shack chic - talking about the romance of the lighting from kerosene lanterns (without mentioning the part about being in a small room with the fumes), and the innovative space-saving (without mentioning the 8 people who live in the place). I found it kind of sickening. Comparing these books with the rioting in the papers, says to me that there's a disconnect between the portrayal and the reality for these people. Apparently there's a tourist trade where you can get a guided tour of the shacks, and go into one and have a meal with the people (who can not really afford the food they are feeding you, but get a kickback from the tour company). Can we say exploitation, yes we can.

However, a thing I also saw was a carport attached to a shack, and in that carport was an SUV that there is no way I could ever afford. So for some, I think shack-dwelling might be a priority choice - cheap housing means more money for other things. But I do believe that for the vast majority they are in shacks because there are no other options.

South African government is working at it, and from the people who have lived there all their lives I heard that it's coming right - but it's a vast problem and only 15 years after the end of apartheid, they have barely scratched the surface. Part of the problem is corruption in government, everyone there admits that. But I think about how long it has taken to get anything that even resembles true biculturality (??) going here, even without apartheid and that kind of poverty and population, and I can understand it. I have no solutions - but it was great to see the attitudes from the white people I mostly hung out with, that it isn't just something to be ignored any more.

* Black people are black-skinned there, and they call themselves black. It's the correct term to use if you don't know their actual tribal designation.
** Same applies. Coloured is for people who are brown not black, and yes they get insulted if you don't call them coloured.

PS it was a very strange feeling being in the white minority. In NZ folks of European descent are in the vast (75%-ish?) majority. Being the 1 in 20 white person is.. disconcerting, not even counting the ingrained cultural stereotypes about black people that we get fed in the media.

OK, I'd better run off to my Crim lecture now, and drop in this essay I wrote a month ago. I'm not even going to look at it before dropping it in. I was happy with it then, it'll do now. And I have that weird post-burn post-learning post-culture shock thing, in which my Crim studies seem somehow.. unimportant.***

*** Having said that, I am really really glad I have studied some social policy before visiting South Africa. It helps with understanding.
Tags: afrika, omg culture shock, poverty, shacks
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