A land of two nations, but in Cato Manor it is not so simple
‘We don’t want them here’
For a municipality-built house, the home Nompilo Mkhize shares with her father and son in Durban’s Cato Manor is impressive.
The floors are tiled, the sitting room has a silver Samsung TV, and there is even a platter of fake wooden fruit decorating the coffee table. Mkhize’s father’s job as a driver for night-shift Prasa employees has treated them well.
South Africa is often described as a land of two nations, divided between a financially successful white minority and a large community of impoverished black Africans. But in Cato Manor the divide is not that simple.On a Saturday morning while Mkhize relaxed in her living room, a man walked around the house from the front to the back. She leapt to the window. “That must be someone from the shacks,” she said nervously, as she called the neighbour’s sons to investigate.
At the bottom of the hill about 100 shacks are occupied by Mkhize’s fellow black South Africans. “We don’t want them here,” she said. “There’s even a court case right now between the shack dwellers and the municipality because the government and the community don’t want them here.
“For the city it’s an environmental issue. They’re degrading the area. For us, it’s a money problem. They’re stealing from us.”
In 2017, the police came in to demolish the shacks. “The police come with their guns and ‘ra-ta-ta-ta-ta’,” chimed in Lelo, Nompilo’s 10-year-old son, detaching himself from Saturday cartoons to form a gun with his hands and imitate the rapid fire of a machine gun.Despite official efforts, the shacks and their occupants have returned. Increasingly the tension in the area is taking on a political dimension. Many of the shack owners are members of the Economic Freedom Fighters, which has made land restitution a rallying cry.
From the valley below, the sound of a single voice calling through a megaphone rose into Mkhize’s house. A chorus of singing soon followed. It was an EFF gathering.
“Do you know what they’re saying?” said Mkhize as she stood gazing over the ridge. “It’s an old liberation song.”
Homeowners in this area do not support the EFF and its policies, she said, while admitting she doesn’t know how to solve the country’s housing crisis.
“I don’t know what the answer is. The problem with giving them houses is how they sell them and then continue living in a shack,” she said.
For now, the shacks keep multiplying. Days later, the family heard the sounds of metal clanging and saws chewing at trees just below the ridge. The next morning a new, shiny metal shack roof was visible from the TV room window.
“Now we have to put up a fence,” Mkhize said.
Hannah Green is on an SIT Study Abroad programme with Round Earth Media.