Each time I pass a squatter camp in South Africa, I am thankful that I have the financial means to live in the home I do. With each visit to the land of my birth, I notice that these informal settlements have increased in size.
The above “town” can be seen from a highway when you travel from Roodepoort to Pretoria. It seems to stretch out for kilometres, encompassing the homes of many.
The shanty houses are made from bits and pieces: corrugated sheets of aluminium which seem to be held together with prayer. Roofs are held on with bricks and tyres.
The homes creep up right onto the edge of the highway. Vegetation is sparse and I wonder where the inhabitants get their water to wash their clothes and cook their food.
Dwellings are unpainted; and the surroundings are not those that would epitomise beauty. Grass is rare as the grounds are swept clean; and miscellaneous buckets and pieces of litter colour the ground.
When passing another squatter camp, I was struck by the contrast to the homes found not far away: homes that are well maintained and surrounded by well kept gardens. These shacks are herded together to create space for even more people that have come to the major towns and cities to get work.
But life goes on for the inhabitants of these informal settlements, as testified by the clothing hanging out to dry.
What is your response each time you pass an informal settlement?
Shelter is one of our basic needs: it is a place that can protect us from the elements, keep us warm and safe, and give us the encouragement to satisfy our other needs. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, shelter is one of the requirements for addressing our physiological needs (along with the need food, water, air, sleep, sex). Maslow represented the human’s physiological needs as the base of a triangle to show that meeting these needs are the most important in our lives. If these needs are not met, the individual may only be able to focus on meeting their physiological needs and not feel motivated to move towards self-actualization.
Man’s shelters, though, come in many different forms depending on a person’s social status or circumstances. The wealthy provide many bedroomed mansions for themselves and their family. The rooms are richly decorated and the spaces within are light, large and airy. The occupants do not worry about running water, or warmth on cold winter days. Everyday they are able to concentrate on other activities besides the daily need to feed themselves, or the worry whether they may lose their shelter at any moment.
On the other end of the scale are the shacks found in squatter camps and shanty towns: pieces of corrugated iron are placed together to form a shelter that houses a group of people. Running water is unavailable so, even though their need for shelter has been met, the occupants of squatter camps need to concern themselves everyday on where to find water to drink, cook, and wash. Speak to an occupant of one of these shanty towns and you will hear they are concerned, not only of being removed from their space, but also of other occupants in the town coming to steal their meagre possessions.
Many of us live in apartment buildings or in three bedroomed houses. We work to pay the rent or mortgage to ensure that we have a roof over our heads so that we do not have to worry about the elements or losing our space (unless we lose our ability to receive a pay check every month). With our physiological needs having been met, we can then focus on our need for safety, belonging, and self-esteem. Eventually attaining our need for self-actualization.
We often change the shelter in which we live. We leave home once we are of age and set up our own space. We marry and have children, thus requiring a larger space for the added members of our family. There comes a time in our lives when we downsize and no longer need so many rooms and spaces in which to live. But no matter what time in our lives we are, we all search for a shelter to call our own.
What shelter do you currently occupy? Are you looking at changing your shelter soon for another?
(Join Jake every week for a theme for creative inspiration. This week’s prompt is “shelter”)