Where else, but in #SouthAfrica. There are times when even we here at Africa is a Country are speechless. Who comes up with offensive stuff like this? Emoya Estate in Bloemfontein, South Africa’s judicial capital, is a private game reserve, a luxury hotel, a conference center, and a spa. We learn all of this from the banner on its website. But with a little perusal, we also learn that this Free State resort offers accommodation in a Basotho village and a shantytown. In the former, for roughly half the monthly household income of an actual Basotho family, one can stay in a gorgeous suite complete with stone masonry, a fireplace, DSTV, air conditioning, wifi, and pool access. Not even the façade of the structure or the layout of the “village” resembles anything Sotho, though it does remind me a bit of clay-shingled condos in southern Florida.
But, wait, it gets worse. See, for a price nearly equivalent to the median monthly income of a South African domestic worker, you can stay for a night in a real informal settlement! I mean, just because these shacks have “under-floor heating and wireless internet access” doesn’t make them any less real. These aren’t just shacks or shanties though; some people call them Makhukhus! Go ahead and Google “Makhukhus” and see how widespread and authentic the term really is. (Mokhukhu is the Sesotho word for shack.)
If the concept itself weren’t offensive enough, check out this introductory gem from the description on the resort’s site:
Millions of people are living in informal settlements across South Africa. These settlements consist of thousands of houses also referred to as Shacks, Shantys (sic) or Makhukhus.
Most offensive of course is the naturalization of informal settlements as some sort of indigenous habitat. No one wants to live in a shack, not a single damn person. This is a housing type and spatial form that emerges from necessity, precisely because there’s a worsening housing crisis in South African cities – not because this is how some select ethno-cultural group chooses to live.
I’ll leave to the side the racist implications of this township tour without a township. The falsehoods continue:
A Shanty usually consists of old corrugated iron sheets or any other waterproof material which is constructed in such a way to form a small “house” or shelter where they make a normal living.
There’s nothing waterproof about a shack. That’s why every winter as the rain begins to fall, people literally move their shacks from flooded sections of settlements to drier land, hoping to secure a livable patch, however temporarily. It’s also why most shacks have buckets on the floor to collect dripping water if they’re lucky, and if they’re not, they wake up early every morning and shovel out the flood like the Danaïdes in reverse.
Then there’s the layout of the “town,” which doesn’t resemble any South African shantytown I’ve ever been to. Rather, it recalls Adam Kuper’s widely cited description of Iron Age Bantu settlements, what he called the Central Cattle Pattern.
I could go on all day, but I’ve leave it there. For more, check out Sipho Hlongwane’s brilliant takedown in the Johannesburg daily, Business Day. Here’s to hoping that this informal settlement is bulldozed and its residents are relocated to Blikkiesdorp.
While certainly not as bad as the white colonial themed wedding complete with black servants in fezzes, the spectacle of a white photographer capturing a white couple in wedding gown and tux in the Emoya shantytown is a close second. “Elizna & Johan,” we read, “is one of those young sweet, gentle & loving couples.” Here they are sharing a cuddle against the strategically mismatched corrugated surface of a shack larger than any structure I’ve ever seen in an informal settlement:
And here they are, after a long day’s leisure, reclining against a zinc façade.
Isn’t it cute how the room numbers are meant to resemble enumeration markings on real shacks? You know, the numbers that the municipality paints on front doors to give informal settlement residents a place on the waiting list. I wonder if this settlement has shacks without numbers scheduled for demolition?
UPDATE: The American political satirist Stephen Colbert has also now weighed in on what he dubbed the “Glamor Camping.”