Lihle Tshabalala
Lihle Tshabalala

Townhouse torture or township triumph?

If there is one thing about townships that I think I should share is that there is a lot of monkey see, monkey do behaviour. It is a lot like the American mentality of keeping up with the Joneses but in a rather intricately township way. We (need I say) black people tend to overlook the bigger picture when it comes to doing what our neighbours do

My beloved mother recently told me that Gugu Mbali bought a house in Bramley and that “other kids are buying houses, I don’t know why you don’t”. Now, notice that Gugu is a 24-year-old neighbour of mine who has always been called by her name and surname because everyone looked up to their family. She was a bright spark, went to good schools and her grandfather owned a shop and was therefore considered rich.

When I first went to a “white school” in 1996 our neighbours believed that my mother’s decision to take me there was so that I could wear a different uniform and use “itransport” (a special minibus that transports school children) and not because she possibly wanted to expose me to a better education.

And there it was; the white school trend. All the kids in my area went on to wear their blue and red uniform to their “white schools”. I need to explain that the meaning of a white school is any school that is outside of Soweto and children use some kind of public transport to get to. So it didn’t matter what the reputation of the school was or if it offered a better education than that of a school that wears a black and white uniform without a school blazer; all there was to it was the “they all take itransport and they all wear blazers” factor which meant all expectations were met.

So naturally, when mama also resembled that shallow mentality I was thoroughly shocked. Don’t get me wrong, getting a place of my own is a great idea, in fact I would like to get that before I get a car. But now the problem is when we all have to mover to the burbs because that is the expectation. “I am sure that Gugu doesn’t earn more than you, I am sure you can also afford to buy a house,” my mother suggests in a very sombre tone. Hhawu! I wonder to myself…

Anyway, when I started working the first thing big thing I wanted to buy (emphasis on buy please) was a house of my own in Soweto. Thanks to apartheid, the houses there are bigger than most townhouses, they have yards on which you can extend your home and they are certainly priced for affordability. “No” mama said to what I thought was a brilliant idea, “you won’t be able to afford it”.

Ok, fine so I stayed at home and we were happy until Gugu went and did what every young, black and upwardly mobile person does; get a townhouse in the northern suburbs and spend half their salaries renting it. Why? Really, why do we not just buy property in Soweto or get cheaper places to rent? I have beef with people the likes of Gugu, in fact, I have a whole cow with them because it is because of them that we are a young and indebted black nation and we are seeing no problem with it.

Chika Onyeani in his renowned book Capitalist Nigger warns that you won’t get rich renting. There are a few exceptions to the renting rule. Like with a handful of my friends from KZN. They rent flats and townhouses in Johannesburg and I forgive them because they are nowhere near home and who wants to live with relatives that will want to live off them anyway? Besides some don’t even have the relatives.

Hhayi, and then there is your Gugus of this world who sprain their budgets and pay more than R4 000 on temporary dwelling just so they can make a mark back in the township and make our parents put us under pressure. “Yeah, I am telling you, she bought this townhouse and her mortgage is R3 000 a month,” mama insists. “Yeah right!” I say, frustrated by all elements of Gugu’s townhouse saga. First of all, the fact that I even have to care what she does bothers and secondly I now have the unnecessary task of explaining to mama that there is no way a person earning R6 500 a month could afford to buy a townhouse in Sunninghill, not with our National Credit Act anyway. Gosh, the pressure!

Bottom line; my mother doesn’t want me in her cottage (aka backrooms) any more because she is convinced I can afford to BUY a townhouse in Sunninghill. She is even less accommodative of my dream for a nice four-room house in Mofolo, Mapetla or even the better sounding Diepkloof because none of them sound as posh as “my child just bought a house in Sunninghill”. Really now? What difference does it make? Unless of course she took me to “white school” because she liked the sound of “my child’s transport picks her up at 6am so that she can get to John Mitchell School on time”. I know my mother and I don’t think she is that kind but somehow I feel because of expectations we all have become one kind.

I really think black people should start prioritising and stop doing things because others are doing them because we know very little about their actions. On that note, I am off to see who out there is willing to sell their 50-plus year old house in Soweto.