One of the more pleasant aspects of mapping large rural areas such as the Swartberg or the Cederberg, the Baviaanskloof or the Overberg, is that we have to drive every driveable road - every highway and every byway. It's the byways that are the best, full of wonderful surprises, full of those "you'd never guess it was here" moments.But the byways - and even the highways - also have their sadder, their gut-wrenching moments. As we've driven around these magic places, our notebooks filling up with distances and scribbles, our cameras clicking, we've gradually become more and more sensitized to one of the most disturbing - and disgusting - sides of rural life in the Cape.
On many farms - on more farms than ever before - from wine farms to wheat farms to mixed grazing and grain farms - there has been an enormous improvement in the standard of housing for farm workers. The houses may be modest in size, but they have neat gardens, glass in the windows, clean walls, TV aerials, electricity connections ...
Which is as it should be. Farm workers, especially in the Western Cape, are potentially the most marginalised of South Africa's people. They [usually] don't own their houses; they are tied to their farms, almost as securely as they were tied in the days of their slave forefathers, their ancestors from the shattered clans of the Khoi and San. They have nowhere else to go, and they do not even have the remnants of tribal support structures to fall back upon. Huge numbers of enlightened farmers have responded to their plight, and it's not just in housing either, it's also in training programmes, from tractor driving to high managerial positioning.
But not everywhere. Drive north out of the leafy suburbs of the west end of Oudtshoorn, on the back road to Schoemanshoek and its lofty church, its boutique wine estates and guest houses. Across the valley, not far away, the Cango Caves road carries thousands of tourists past ostrich palaces, crocodile farms and cheetah sanctuaries, all entreating you to spend your bucks, have a good time. The tar ends and you leave the SAPS Dog Training school behind. The guest houses and lodges are only a few kilometres away, but before you reach them you'll pass these places.
At first you might think they are ruins ... but they're not. They all belong to a farmer somewhere, and they all have people living in them, people who don't own them. They have no windows, almost no roofs, no electricity ... what they must be like inside in the 40 degree Oudtshoorn summers and minus 10 winter nights is, well. Every one of them houses young South African children, everyone of them houses people, people with hopes and dreams and needs.
But those houses are quite out of the way, not many people get to see them, so we needn't be too concerned that our tourists will be upset by them. However, at Herold, near George, there are some very larny places to stay, yet another wine estate, and a National Road, the N9, running past not far away. The house on the left is right in the town of Herold, the houses on the right are at Doringrivier farm, next to the N9 highway, at Herold.
Here's a funny thing. It's a Local Government election year in SA. Politics are heating up - the ANC says there are too many Coloured people in the Western Cape and the Freedom Front says there are too many black people in South Africa [only joking]. Two of the mayoral candidates for Cape Town might be Tony Ehrenreich, head honcho of the trade union movement Cosatu in the Cape, and Patricia de Lille, Minister of Welfare in the Cape Provincial government. I might have missed something, but I have never heard either of these worthies addressing the housing plight of thousands of Western Cape people in the rural areas ... have you? Ever heard Tokyo Sexwale, Minister of Housing, on the subject? Helen Zille? Julius Malema? Marthinus god-bless-im van Schalkwyk, Minister of Tourism? President Zuma?
The answer is No, because the children in these houses, and their parents, just don't count. And if the tourist view from the national highways is bad, well, too bad!
Last two pics. The first is off the N9 in the Long Kloof, less than 7 km from the wine estate of a well-known SA golfing hero; I wonder if he's ever stopped and looked at it. The other is near Goudini, home of many huge wine estates including some that boast a lot (especially overseas) about their fair labour practices ...
In his poignant song "Dans mettie dood" (Dance with Death) David Kramer sings poignantly and brilliantly of the lot of these forgotten, cast-off people ... [translation below]
ek trek ’n skuif en ek drink ’n bier
ek soek jou lyf vir my plesier
hoeners pik die bitter grond
kinners hardloop kaalgat rond
ek dans mettie dood
die lewe bly maar duur.
I pull on a smoke and I drink a beer;
I look to your body for my pleasure.
Chickens scratch in the bitter earth,
children run around naked ...
I dance with death -
This life just costs too much.
I can't get Kramer's rhyming metre into my crude translation, I'm afraid ... but I'll save more pictures for another time.
In the meantime, if you have pics of Shocking Housing, mail them in. We're thinking of starting a dedicated website, to name and shame the landowners who perpetuate this awful squalor upon our countrymen, in our fair land.
PS I'm hoping to find some emails for the politicians, so you can mail your thoughts to them directly.