As you travel along South Africa you cannot help but notice sprawling squatter camps. Villages of urban shacks that seem to mushroom out of nowhere. You will see women gathered at communal taps, drawing water or washing and hanging their laundry on the side of the. The house come in all types, shapes and sizes with some queer lopsided double storeyed, that make you wonder if they won’t topple one day in a raging storm. Some are colourful with satellite dishes hanging by the roofs.
It is not unusual to see a person busy urinating on someone’s shack wall, because the plastic movable toilets are a little further away. Another may be happily braai pork chops and chicken feet nearby enjoying a steady stream of clients waiting to buy the deliciously smelling merchandise mostly drenched in barbeque sauce. You cannot miss the laughter from the children happily running dangerously close to the road somehow oblivious of the lurking danger of the passing vehicles.
While everyone will look at the urban shack dwellers with contempt, disgust or pity, wondering how they live, I can promise you that they live green. They are true masters of recycling. Though one cannot see at first glance because of the bits of rubbish flying everywhere, they have made most of the homes out of discarded material, metal sheets, wooden pallets or planks, zinc corrugated sheets, anything that can stabilize a wall, even layered one on top of the other it doesn’t matter. The roof is equally made of the same material but covered with plastic sheets for protection against rain.
Inside they line the walls with cardboard box to capture the draft on cold winter nights and to give them a uniform homely feel. Discarded posters, pictures and banners, sometimes curtains and sheets also are used to decorate the walls. For the more affluent ones, one can use brightly painted rhino boards to enhance the room. The floor is layered with old carpets and covered with a plastic carpet to give a tiled impression. There you have a house complete with modern day comforts if one can afford it.
The urban shack dweller is also an expert in organising space. Empty 20lt buckets can be used for various things mainly as water carriers or as sewer bucket to use at night without risking being mugged while relieving oneself outside. They can also be used to store, food, clothes or whatever and stacked in a corner to curb the nasty rodents from eating up one’s food. Stored clothes can later be repacked into bags and taken to folks in the rural areas. Buckets empty or not can be placed underneath a mattress or board to form a base for a bed, table or TV stand. Daily the recyclers acquire stuff that will make their dwellings more comfortable. What they cannot use, they will put outside for another to take or on top of the roof to stabilise it against storms.
So as I travel past these dwellings, I do not only see a menace to society as some may see, but champions of green living who maybe be despised and misunderstood, but making it happen with the stuff that we find easy to throw away at whim.