Housing Conditions in Kaffir Boy

We found some explanations about the living and infrastructure conditions in Alexandra in our book “Kaffir Boy“. We would like to give a rough summary about how these conditions are described in the book. These drawings we drew using the freeware "Sweet Home 3D" . They show some of the shacks in which Johannes had to live.

This is what Johannes' shack may have looked like.

Shack from a simple side view
Shack from above
P. 31: Johannes describes the new shack in which they have to move in to as follows:
“This new shack, like the old one, had two rooms and measured something like fifteen by fifteen feet, and overlooked the same unlit, unpaved, potholed street. It had an interior flaked with old whitewash a leaky ceiling of rusted zinc propped up by a thin wall of crumbling adobe bricks, two tiny windows made of cardboard of average height to pass trough without bending double, and a floor made of patches of cement and earth. It was similar to the dozen or so shacks strewn irregularly, like lumps on a leper, upon the cracked greenless piece of ground named yard number thirty-five.”
This is what Johannes' shak might have looked like.
P. 92/93: Johannes’s family decided to move to another shack because they were frightened of the developments in Alexandra. A lot of shacks were demolished by bulldozers. That is the reason why they looked for another shack to live in. Johannes gives a rough description:
”The place on Thirteenth Avenue was another dingy two-roomed shack. The two ramshackle rooms, built from zinc and porous bricks, like the ones on Fifteenth Avenue, overlooked the street, and were part of a row of similarly constructed tenements partitioned by narrow, dark, rat-infested alleyways. Most nongovernment yards throughout Alexandra were similarly built. Collectively, the tenements, along with the one outside lavatory servicing them all, constituted yard number forty-seven, and our address, therefore was Forty-seven Thirteenth Avenue. Rent was due the first day of each month, without exception. For our tenement we paid six rands, half my father’s wage.”
P.95/96: The author gives an impression of the bad living conditions. He describes what they are made of and what consequences the family has to bear.
”The ceiling of our shack began to crumble, and the door and wooden window frames began to rot, and in the winter icy winds would whip through. We were reliving the nightmare of Fifteenth Avenue. The slushed walls gradually peeled, inviting bats, rats and other nightly creatures to come live with us.”
”I hushed, and the house continued decaying. Often, during the night particulary after id had rained and the floor was soggy wet, my brother, sisters and I, after being gnawed by vicious ants and scorpions burrowing through the porous cement floor, would wake up screaming from the floor where we slept. Rats never stopped eating our palms and feet, and we often were unable to walk or handle anything for days because both areas were like open wounds. Bedbugs and lice sucked us dry during the night. And just about every day my mother had to get a new cardboard to make pallets because the rats where eating those too.


Our general impression of the problems of housing and infrastructure in the book “Kaffir Boy“ is as follows:

  • winnie_mandela_squatter_camp.jpg
    Winnie Mandela squatter camp
    The shacks are small and no separate bedrooms. Johannes has to sleep under the table with his brothers and sisters. They are often cold and only have newspapers to cover themselves. If they do not put out their heater in the night it poisons them so they have to bear the cold. The parents have their own bedroom with one bed and a cupboard. The dimensions of their shack are fifteen by fifteen feet, approximately 4.5 by 4.5 meters. This is not even as big as a bedroom in developed countries.
  • Johannes also writes about the poor material these shacks are often made of. Rapidly the walls of their shack begin to rot and the ceiling crumbles. The family’s health is also in danger because they get parasitic diseases from rats, bedbugs and lice.
  • Information about water supply, sanitation and transport is rare in the book but we found some: Johannes explains that there is a communal tap in their neighbourhood, which contains about fifteen to twenty shacks. It is forbidden to fetch water without the parents' attendance because children might contaminate or waste precious water.
  • There is a communal toilet in their neighbourhood. It is not specified but we imagine that like all communal facilities it was very soiled and caused high danger of contamination. From time to time, the communal toilet which was no more than a hole in the ground was cleaned out by “shit men”.
  • Transport is difficult but there are buses. For example, Johannes’s father spends a lot of time riding the bus to work.
  • Another important point about housing seems to be the closeness to neighbours. If something happens, all of them will know about it very quickly. This has advantages also: The neighbours can help each other if necessary.

In conclusion we can say that they live in inhumane conditions. By First World standards, this family of five does not have enough space to live, cook and sleep. Their health situation is also unacceptable. There is also not enough space for privacy, which everyone needs.