Posted March 29, 2009
Durban, South Africa, has since my first visit reminded me–and not only me — of California. They both have great surfing, beautiful beaches,an amazing climate and a laid-back vibe.
But lately it seems that life in these two seemingly distant locales is becoming even more similar in less pleasant ways, as California towns and other US cities have begun to develop a healthy growth industry in the kind if “informal settlements”–or shantytowns–that more famously dot the hillsides in and around Durban.
You’ll notice some key differences. 1) most of the shacks in the informal settlements in Durban have walls made of wood and tin scraps while the US shantys are mostly tents, and 2) shackdwellers in Durban have some political organization and movement. I can tell you which Hooverville I’d rather live in.
California squatters are also newly facing problems more familiar to the picturesque poor of Durban. In the most recent New York Times update, a recipient of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s generous willingness to let the squatters have a vacant fairground complained about the national attention the camp is receiving from Oprah and the Times:
“We’re a circus for sightseers,” said Mr. Borchardt, 29, who added a few unprintable adjectives to his comments. “People are coming through here with cameras and then just walking away. We had never had sightseers before.”
Come to think of it, Oprah’s attention just one more thing these two groups of people have in common!
The New York Times photo essay also showed an interesting image of an “improved” squatter camp that reminded me very much of NGO and government “improvements” in South Africa:
Fresno’s “Village of Hope” (isn’t that a bit like calling it an Obamaville?)–
Meanwhile back in the Southern Hemisphere:
Again; improving shacks with cinderblocks versus improving them with plywood sheds. My vote goes to the concrete, though in reality the truth is that people need real houses.
We have a right not to live in tents or inadequate structures made of particleboard, tin or uninsulated concrete. Its amazing to me that we are supposed to be impressed and pleased by these improvements. A real improvement here would be adequately sized, warm houses with running water and electricity.