Reflections on South Africa: Houses

My village has around 600 households, according to the 2001 census. It’s probably lower than that now because villages in the area are draining to larger villages or towns, like Ganyesa or Vryburg. Among those 600 houses, there are not a whole lot of variance.

There are half a dozen or so brick homes. These are the nicest homes in the village, by far. The are well built, have good roofs, and likely better insulated than most homes.

The vast, vast majority of homes are cement brick houses, including mine. These nearly always have corregated metal roofs, and the nicer ones are painted. The RDP government houses that were built last year are all this type of home. Cement homes can be as small as a single room to a large main house with smaller sets of rooms around the yard. These homes are hot in the summer and cold in the winter, and quite drafty. A corner of my cement room is crumbling where the roof beam enters the wall, and occasionally drops pieces of cement plaster into my kitchen area. These houses are study, but full of cracks and crumbling areas.

The other type of house that can be found in my village is a tin shack house. It’s literally a few pieces of metal roofing nailed to a few wooden poles, with a metal roof. They crop up overnight, and house families. Nearly all of them are smaller than my room, as it’s hard to have a big house if it’s made of tin. I’ve not been in one, but I am certain they are sweltering in the summer and frigid in the winter. These houses make me sad, but the government is trying to get these families into the cement RDP houses mentioned above.

Houses here are built much differently than in the States. They are meticulously planned out and saved for. A lot of people do not have bank accounts here because bank fees are high, so they might choose to keep the money “in the house”. When they have a little extra, they will buy some bricks and build part of a room. When times are tight, construction stops. Because of this, houses are often build one room at a time. Houses are slapped together over a period of years, and you can look at a house and see how it was built one or two rooms at a time.

Houses are often built in a compound-style. There is usually a main house, where the “nuclear” family lives, and which also has the kitchen, dining room, and living room. Of course, most houses in my village consist of only one or two rooms for the entire family. However, those who are well-off for village standards will also start building “free-standing” rooms around the family compound. I live in one, which shares a wall with another exterior room, which has the garage on the other side. Families use these rooms either to rent out, as in my case, or for visiting family members. During the school holidays, aunts, uncles, and cousins flood to my family’s compound, taking up the other exterior room.

I’ve only seen one house in my village that has running water. You can tell because the water heater unit looks like an oil drum attached sideways on the side of the house. The rest of us use pit latrines and bucket baths.

Though my house is rather crappy for American standards, it’s bright, large for PC standards, and pretty new. And it’s my home for the time being, my little oasis.

A family's compound, with the main house (right) and exterior rooms (left)

A family’s compound, with the main house (right) and exterior rooms (left)

RDP Government Issue house

RDP Government Issue house

A tin shack house

A tin shack house

Another tin shack

Another tin shack

My host family's main house-one of the few painted houses, and one of the nicest houses here.

My host family’s main house-one of the few painted houses, and one of the nicest houses here.

My house (aka room)!

My house (aka room)!


About Jen Lamos

Christ follower. Writer. Permaculturist. RPCV. Photographer. Gardener. Keeper of Chickens. Daughter of God.

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