Novelty vs Reality: The international tiny-house movement, a housing crisis in South Africa


The tiny-house movement is an architectural and social movement that encourages the theme of sustainable, off-grid living enabling financial prudence. It promotes living simply in a smaller space by choice. In contrast to that, here in South Africa, tiny houses have been in existence for ages.

Living large in a tiny home

Admittedly, I’ve become besotted with Bryce Langston and his Channel called ‘Living Big in a Tiny House’. Langston celebrates the diversity of tiny houses. Showcasing uniquely crafted homes-on-wheels parked on the most beautiful settings or built on a piece of land. Each episode delves into the design and purpose of the home showcased. Very so often with the theme of sustainable, off-grid living enabling financial prudence.

The founding father of the ‘Tiny Home Movement’ – Jay Shafer

In 1999, Jay Shafer published an article advocating simple living. Spearheading the Tiny Home Movement in America, he went on to start a company called Tumbleweed Tiny House Company in California. His houses encouraged a shift in the consumer-driven mindset for a more economically safe experience.

Tiny home living in Africa

While watching the latest episode, it dawned on me just how different our view of tiny house living is. In the developed world, it’s a novelty, a new trend that the flex socialites egg on. Yet, the tiny-house movement is an architectural and social movement. It promotes living simply in a smaller space by choice. In contrast to that, here in South Africa, tiny houses have been in existence for ages. The abolition of influx control laws led to the emergence of shantytowns in the cities. On the other hand, the homelands created by the Apartheid regime were densely populated. Extreme poverty, lack of industrial development and no growth, motivated inhabitants to leave.

No Spatial planning

Poor spatial planning caused a lack of housing which left many rural immigrants stranded. Housing became extremely unattainable. As a consequence backyard dwelling grew in popularity. Leading to a drastic increase in numbers all over our country. Walking in the various townships like Westbury and Alexandra in Johannesburg is evidence of this. Here you encounter the many Zozos sticking their tin roofs out as if to say, “here am I”. The Cape Province has its fair share of Wendy houses and bungalows, too. To think, these were meant to accommodate tools, not people. At present, South Africa suffers an acute housing crisis with millions of people desperate for homes.

Informal settlements are under threat

Both the private and public sectors have failed to close this massive lodging gap. Consequently, the vulnerable will continue to put up shacks wherever they find vacant land. Those fortunate enough with jobs, are forced to rent in somebody’s yard because they need to be close to work. I am reminded of Bulelani Qholani and the shameful way in which he was evicted from his home in the Western Cape. Bulelani stands as a symbol of the human rights abuses perpetrated against the poor and defenseless as forced removals and demolitions continue to persist.

Africa’s tiny house reality

Our freedom Charter states: “All shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose”. I somehow fail to see this realized anytime soon. Cramped spaces made from reclaimed materials and cardboard boxes is the reality.

Situated in dirty and underdeveloped areas with no services. It fails to protect during harsh winters, frequent heavy rains and often gets destroyed by fires. It’s a far cry from the debt-free, mortgage-free, energy-efficient, sustainable version that the first world tiny homeowners are accustomed to.

*These are the opinions of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Vannie Kaap News.


  1. Finally an existential article about involuntarily forced cramped informal living conditions in South Africa, perpetuated by a viscous inhumane evil apartheid regime!

    Apartheid created hovels of unplanned human living, which is still affecting millions of coloured and black citizens especially in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth and of course in the rest of SA which unfortunately has NOT been addressed by the current regime who STILL is unable to shake off the shackles of apartheid.

    #genoegisgenoeg #houopkakpraat

  2. Great article highlighting the housing crisis in South Africa with the ever explosive population. It’s not just the Cape and PE as the previous commentator points out. Johannesburg’s Diepsloot and Alexdandria, Elderadopark and Mitchell’s Plain townships that begger description! Children are not safe in these environments, hence the ongoing rape crisis, and little to nothing gets done.

    Then there is the reality that when people get houses, they rent them out and construct a shack. Why do they do this you might ask? It’s simple, it’s two things, greed or that many people don’t have meaningful employment which pays them a decent wage so they become shack and RDP landlords, another great unregulated evil.

    There are fundamental human rights amongst the many UN and International Human Rights variations including our own constitution. They are, the right to a shelter, the right to water and sanitation, the right to healthcare, the right to education and national security, the right to recreation, the right to food. After 26 years of ” independence” South African’s have seen little progress in any of these areas. We’ve all been lied to whilst corruption empties government coffers. But, you get what you vote for.

    The Tiny House Movement is a global paradigm shift in housing. It’s much bigger than just a house, it’s a new conscious way of living.

    The aim of the tiny house movement is to leave behind a smaller footprint in an attempt to save our beautiful planet. It really calls on everyone to be cognisant of their footprint, to grow their own food, and most importantly to use green technology in order to dispense with or reduce utility bills.

    When one has no mortgage, no utility bills, one grows ones own organic food, and one is conscious of ones environment, a whole new meaning to the word Wellness happens. What is happening in our current system is UNWELLNESS. Everything from mental illness to disease and crime is what happens when people do not work, and cannot provide food and a good home for their families.

    Having said that, I think people in South Africa need to learn to work together as a community to achieve these goals, and on my many attempts to organise communities, I know that this is a pipe dream unless it is backed up by government on every level. The current mentality will not cut it. We also need to change the mentality of our municipalities, government and banks to support these builds. No bank will give me a mortgage to do this kind of build. Why? Well it’s simple really. Banks have little to gain from a small mortgage bond to poor people whom they have decided are a bad risk. These are also tiny mortgage bonds which can be paid off in a year or two or five. You see they want us indebted to them for long periods of time. We must not ever be able to save and invest to get our of poverty. It will take a lot of groundbreaking work and the will of our government to make this happen. All I know is that people need decent green housing and jobs, and they want it now.

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