Part III

As I head towards Soweto, by far the largest township in southern Africa. I pass several huge squatter camps, plain eyesores with thousands of tin shacks crammed together, piles of stinking rubbish everywhere and hundreds of men just hanging around.

At the side of the road, under a “Build your own Home” sign I spot a young man selling huge sheets of corrugated iron. Just $500 will buy me an instant shack, he said. That’s just for the roof and four walls, but for many even that is a luxury.

With building materials expensive, it’s not such a big surprise when I get down the road and come across a new suburb where dozens of truly tiny houses are being built, each barely the size of a garden shed. To keep within the local governing council’s housing budget, each home consists of just one room. But each has electricity and its own water supply, even if it’s just one outside tap, and every home boasts the comparative luxury of an indoor, flushing toilet.

Each house also is built on a good sized piece of ground allowing families to add on extra rooms when they can afford to. All around us, we see dozens of newly occupied homes with half-built extensions or piles of new bricks stacked up in the yard, waiting for work to start.

“For me, I am lucky, my dream has come true,” says Elizabeth Makheleka as she does the family washing in two enormous zinc tubs, rinsing everything thoroughly under the yard tap.

Shyly, she asks if I would like to see inside, but first she shows me the foundations for the extension she is already planning. And as soon as we step inside, I can see why she is so keen to start building.

The inside of the house is tiny, impossible for four people to live here. A four-plate electric stove, Elizabeth’s pride and joy, sits just inside the door, and a small table, neatly stacked with cups and plates, completes her tiny “kitchen.”

The toilet sits behind an enormous concrete wall and the remainder of the floor is completely taken up by a double bed, wedged between a wardrobe and a room divider crammed with a television, radio, hi-fi, books, boxes and piles of bedding.

Elizabeth, her husband and two children came to Johannesburg almost 10 years ago. Although her husband has a good job as a mechanic, it is only now that they have been able to buy their own home with the help of a government subsidy. This is the home they have dreamed of. It is a humbling experience for me.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive


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