This past weekend, I had a homestay in Stellenbosch’s informal and illegal settlement – Enkanini. Enkanini, translated as “Taken By Force” is only a few years old, but is already home to about 8,000 people (all black) living in shacks. As an illegal settlement, the entire community is not connected to the electric grid, has very limited shared toilets, and is traditionally ignored by the town municipality. For most of Stellenbosch, Enkanini is an ugly parasite that one can see from almost anywhere in town. Located on a hill overlooking the city, Enkanini has some of the most beautiful views of the area, but ironically is home to some of the poorest too. The town wants to get rid of Enkanini, but has no idea how to. My time in Enkanini was an eye-opening experience on the inequalities that still exist in South Africa, and specifically just in the Stellenbosch commmunity.
From the front door of the shack I was staying in, one could see the entire town of Stellenbosch directly in front of me. I could clearly see the red-tile roofs of the university buildings, and even a faint outline of my dorm a few kilometers away. Shockingly, before leaving for Enkanini, many of my South African friends had never even heard of Enkanini, the first of many signs of the “apartheid” that still exists today. To get to Enkanini, one has to drive across the railroad tracks that split “white” Stellenbosch from Kayamandi (the black township of Stellenbosch), go through the industrial area of Stellenbosch, and drive all the way to the end of a cul-de-sac. On one side of the cul-de-sac is a steep dirt road that leads into Enkanini, and in what is land-allocated for a nature reserve, one will find several hundreds of shacks cramped into very small quarters on a steep hill.
During my time in Enkanini, I was able to walk around the community and meet many of the people who lived there, play with many of the kids growing up in Enkanini, play pool with some of the older guys, watch the biggest soccer game of the year (Kaiser Chiefs vs Orlando Pirates in a Cup final), attend a church service, and eat some amazing homemade food. What I learned from all of these experiences and more are too hard to recount in full, but I hope I can hit some of my most important impressions.
On weekends, Enkanini does not sleep. Both Friday and Saturday night, loud music, church singing, and drunkards could be heard well into the early hours of the morning; so much so that the noises of the previous night smoothly ended as the roosters started their morning wake-up calls. There is also a strong sense of community, and almost everyone is outside their homes talking to friends, walking around the community, tending to errands, etc. Just sitting outside our home we were able to meet countless people, and children flocked to us to teach us new games and hang out with some new faces. Hanging out with the children, it was evident to us that the entire community raises children rather than just the parents. We never saw the parents of the majority of children we were able to interact with, and any and every passerby would pick up the kids and play with them before continuing up the road. In such tight spaces, it is not surprising that such a culture exists within Enkanini.
Because of this tight knit community, safety and security in Enkanini also is an interesting subject to look at. Our host told us how Enkanini, although known for its crime, is actually quite safe compared to neighbouring Kayamandi (a formal settlement) because people know each other in Enkanini. When a mugging occurs, people come out of their homes and immediately make an issue if they recognize the victim. In places like Kayamandi where people are living in formal settlements and with greater space, muggers are left alone as it becomes less and less of the community’s responsibility to prevent crime. With that said, Enkanini finds itself in a difficult conundrum when it comes to crime as it is located just on the other side of a hill home to some of the richest in Stellenbosch. Thus, robbers and criminals tend to run into Enkanini for refuge, importing crime that the community otherwise would not have. As an illegal settlement, the municipality fails to give the resources the community needs to prevent this, and now Enkanini is known as a crime hotspot.
Living in Enkanini is difficult considering all the homes are shacks, there are very few running water taps, no formal sources of electricity, limited toilets, and steep roads that are prone to flooding. The two nights we slept there were very cold, and gave us a taste of the complete lack of insulation and heating most people live through in the town. With no streetlights and only informal dirt roads, nighttime also means pitch-dark alleyways and great challenges in both safety and navigation through community. The informal settlements leaves little private space, which leads to numerous other issues.
As always though, people find a way to be happy, and we were constantly greeted with happy faces, friendly jokes, playful children, and a very accepting community. The overall beautify of Enkanini’s location make it almost easy to forget all the underlying problems of its existence. How could 8,000 people be living in an illegal settlement only a few minutes walk from some of the richest in Stellenbosch? Why is every single one of those people black? Looking out from our homestay porch, it is hard to imagine a more segregated and unequal city in the world. As evening approached one night, we saw as the rest of the city lit up, while most of Enkanini stayed dark. While many of my friends were going out for a fun night in downtown Stellenbosch, a forgotten community just a few minutes away continued living a life completely separate, and for the most part, completely forgotten.