I feel like I’ve spent my life moving from one type of settlement to another, hoping for better housing. From living on an ostrich farm, then in a shack with no toilet, to being called “daai plaas meid” (that farm girl), this is my story and the challenges I’ve faced along the way.
Growing up on an ostrich farm
I’m a 21-year-old girl who grew up on a small ostrich farm near the small Western Cape town Oudtshoorn, which had four houses on the property for the workers. At first, I thought it was cool to live there because, as kids, my friends and I would play with the ostriches. And we loved it even more when tourists came to visit, because we were excited to see other people. We would even sit on top of trees just to get a glimpse of the visitors. But the older I became, the more I was aware of what was really going on around me.
It started to bother me that we lived so close to the enclosure full of ostriches, which stank. I didn’t think it was right for us to live so close to them. But when I asked my elders why we had to live like that, they would say, “You have to respect other people’s decision, this is not our property.”
In-between places and misunderstood
In 2008 I moved to my high school hostel in Oudtshoorn, and as exciting as this was for me, it wasn’t easy because the other kids always reminded me of where I came from. The guys would refer to me as “dai plaas meid” (that farm girl). I found it embarrassing because they would laugh at me. Some people think the misconception that all farm girls “is niks gewoond nie” (are not exposed to much) is a fact.
Luckily for me, some of my friends were from different farms, as well. I still didn’t want them to visit me, though, because there were strict rules on the farm. We couldn’t even play our music loud, because Meneer (the owner of the farm) would cut our electricity if we did, especially if he had guests. Oh, and let’s not forget, the ostriches right next door were also very sensitive.
The big move
In 2011, my mom quit her job and we had to move away from the farm. I wasn’t happy about it, because I was so used to staying there. I later realised it was a good decision afterall. I didn’t want to work on the the farm and maybe people would stop calling me “farm girl”.
We moved to a place called Rose Valley, which was renamed Riemvasmaak because it was reminiscent of the TV series Riemvasmaak, which was based on the forced removal of the Riemvasmaak community, in the Northern Cape, during the apartheid era.
We lived in a shack, and in the beginning we had to use our neighbour’s toilet because we didn’t have one of our own. There was just one tap per street, and it took some getting used to. I was sad, but I always reminded myself that there were others who didn’t even have a place to stay.
The realities of living in a shack
The scary part about living in a shack, without electricity, is that you are always afraid of shack fires. There have been a couple of incidents, and some people have lost everything. When this happens, the municipality gives you temporary residence. In winter it gets very cold and we make fire with planks, so shack fires are still a reality to many of us.
The municipality recently started building temporary housing with electricity, and people are excited. The housing hasn’t accommodated everyone though, and some people still live without electricity. Last year, they started building houses but most of Riemvasmaak’s residents are still waiting for homes, including my family. I’m very excited about the possibility of having a house, because we have lived in this situation for almost five years now, but I guess you get used to it.