From the posh Village View Shopping Centre in Bedfordview, we drove just a few kilometers away to the Makause Squatter Camp outside Primrose. What a juxtaposition between rich and poor, though the ones who are often caught in the middle are neither rich nor poor.
The Sobering Makause Squatter Camp
Makause is a squatter camp (more officially referred to as an “informal settlement”) located in the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality in the Primrose area of the Gauteng province. It is located above an abandoned mine and settlement began after the fall of Apartheid in the 1990s.
Over the decades, it has continued to grow and is mixed with both illegal immigrants and some more desperate South African nationals. What was once a proud mining town is now destitute and could not be more different than some of the affluent suburbs that surround it. As was true in Cape Town years ago, it is always the juxtaposition that is more fascinating to me than the poverty itself.
In this area, the traffic lights were missing. Why? They were stolen for scrap metal. Trains were not stopping. Why? The station had also been raided for scrap metal. There’s a degree of desperation that is utterly pathetic and yet many who live in Makause are living better lives than they could in Zimbabwe or Lesotho.
Meanwhile, what were once thriving middle-class communities in the area are now crime-ridden and homes are forced to install a degree of security that is a sad testament to that fact. For example, we stopped at a friend’s house. She lives in California now but her father still lives in the house she grew up in Germiston. Not only is there a sliding security gate to get in, but another gate from the driveway to the courtyard, a guard dog, a secure door into the house, a locking security door between the hallway in the living room, another one halfway down the hallway, and another one outside each bedroom.
And this is not a palace but a middle-class home in a mixed-race neighborhood. Home invasion robberies are a daily threat. There is no exaggeration and most can tell stories of how they have been victimized.
I’m not here to reduce complex issues into trite simplicities. I’m not making sweeping condemnations or unhelpful generalizations when the root causes of the malaise that plagues South Africa require far more than a few hundred words. Here, I am just sharing my own travel experience. But every time I travel to beautiful South Africa, truly one of my favorite countries in the world, I do wonder how long this fragile system can continue.