In South Africa squatters are considered a nuisance to society, found in abandoned buildings in big cities such as Johannesburg, in outlying areas often in makeshift buildings made out of metal, wood, carboard and anything that can keep the elements out.
In 2003 before all the inner city refurbishment took place on Jeppe street there was a abandoned building that wreaked with the smell of faeces as nothing escapes the african sun when it shines. As we drove through the area on the bus home I would hope that we would have smooth passage so we did not have stop and marinate in this odour. How could people sleep in this place? Could they no longer smell it?
Over the past 19 years , I have seen Joburg change and grow and with this growth such buildings disappeared but the notion of squatting has not left, in fact its entrenched in our society. In 2018 I travelled to the Netherlands to spend some time with family, my husband mentioned that we would visit a friend who stays in a former monastery. It all sounded pretty cool until he told me that they were squatting in the building they were living in, immediately I was flooded with my earlier memories of squatters and I did not know if I could stomach this visit.
when the day finally arrived I tried to gather as much information about the friend as I could trying to ensure that come what may I would not be startled by what awaited. The said friend he told me had a masters degree immediately I was taken aback they had educated squatters, i'm not saying all squatters in South Africa are uneducated but I'm pretty sure they don't have a masters education.
The squatting I encountered in the Netherlands was nothing like anything I had seen back home, these people had a communal garden that they all worked on, the produce was sold for a small fee to all the occupants who lived in this monastery. They had music recitals, ground coffee, garden team it was all very modern and collaboration in action. Below is a slide show of some of the pictures I took whilst I was there. I found it interesting that even though these people were not necessarily well off they had created a place that was home for them but also a economy out of their efforts together. It certainly put a twist on my ideas around squatting and how it can be done.
Michelle shares stories of the journey " Those who travel meet Themselves" has taken. This book has travelled to more countries than Michelle has.