Growing up in East London and choosing to attend university at Rhodes, I lived in residence while at Rhodes so when I arrived in Cape Town I did not know where to begin looking for accommodation. I only knew a few family members who I thought I could crash with while I looked for my own place, but they lived on the outskirts of the city. This meant that I would spend R55 a day on transport as I would have to take two to three modes of transport to get to work and that I would have to sit in traffic for about two hours. I started asking around, and everyone kept on telling me, “Go to Gumtree!”, and so I did, filtering the search bar in accordance with the minimal internship salary I was getting paid per month.
I found a lot of apartments, close to town and affordable. The problem with them, however, was that they required you to pay two months deposit, as well as the rental fee. Where was I going to get all that money? Even though my parents were assisting me, we could not afford to pay about R12,000 – especially in “Janu-worry” of all months. All of this made me realise that the truth is, for the average working-class person, finding accommodation in Cape Town is extremely difficult, even more so if you are black.
I had heard a number of rumours before about how racist Cape Town landlords are and how I’d struggle to find a place, but I did not think that in 2018, I would be discriminated against from finding a home based on the colour of my skin.
Because I’ve had experiences of receiving better customer service when I sound like a white person, I tried to put on my best “former Model C School accent” but what I found was that, even though the landlords sounded keen to offer me a place at first, as soon as they would ask for my name and I’d tell them, the phone would either be abruptly dropped on me or the place would suddenly no longer be available. I guess that’s what happens when you live in a racist country and your name sounds too black.
I really wanted to believe that I was not being racially discriminated against, but after countless emails with no response, I asked one of my white colleagues to call or email on my behalf, and it was shocking how she was able to immediately get viewings and prompt responses to her emails.
It was clear that the rumours were true and I started to remember all the ads I had seen which read: “Afrikaans speaking tenants only.” How was that even legal? Why do I need to speak Afrikaans to get a roof over my head?
A number of black graduates leave university to start internships and they struggle to find homes. We cannot afford to pay these expensive rent fees and we get racially discriminated against by landlords. Most of the rentals require three months of payslips which we do not have as we are graduates fresh out of university. Most of the rentals also require a salary of over R12,000, and most of us definitely don’t make that much yet, we are only interns. So now the question that comes to mind is, where are we supposed to find homes?
After countless sleepless nights and tons of disappointing viewings, I decided that my next best bet was to resort to student accommodation. Most of the landlords would not consider my application as I was no longer a student and they could not bend the rules for me. Another problem was that most of the student houses were shared between too many people.
I managed to get a viewing for an apartment in Woodstock that the Gumtree ad claimed was shared amongst three people. I called my father and my work manager to come and view the apartment with me, and to my disappointment, I got there and found a 15-bedroom grungy looking house. The walls were chipped and the paint on the ceiling was peeling. It was nothing like the photos on Gumtree. They had lied. It smelt like a wet dog had slept there and there were only two toilets and two showers to share among the 15 tenants. The house was dominated by men who stared at me as if I were a piece of meat as I viewed the house. I felt my most vulnerable at that point.
So here I was, too old to get student accommodation and too poor to get a regular apartment.
I was finding no luck with Gumtree so I was told to try OLX, and just when I thought that I had found the perfect home, a granny flat in Rosebank for R4,000, including wi-fi and electricity, I was told that I needed to pay a holding deposit of two months rent in order to view it as it was highly in demand – this was a scam.
There was no such thing as that holding deposit, and it made no sense that I would have to pay for it before I had seen the actual apartment. This group of scammers was so convincing that they even sent me a lease agreement, camouflaged in lawyer jargon, and offered to pick me up from work so that I could visit their offices and speak to them in person.
The only way I was able to catch them out was because they did not have an office number, and when I searched their cell number on the True Caller ID app, the cell number did not exist. To my horror, two weeks later, I saw a thread on Twitter about a girl from Johannesburg who who had been scammed by the exact same group upon her move to Cape Town and she had lost all her money. She was left homeless and hopeless, in a new city, the Mother City, that so many of us idolise and pray to find employment in once we graduate. It only hit me then, I had almost lost R8,000 in desperation because I did not have a home.
It scares me how many other people have experienced this. Another thing that made the experience so incredibly stressful, was that I was a woman, and this meant that when I approached male sellers on Gumtree, they would have my number and they would harass me and hit on me. One man told me that he would give me a discount on an apartment, which was out of my price range, if I agreed to be his girlfriend. He even suggested that I wouldn’t have to pay a cent if I moved in with him and slept in his room.
Being the young, desperate and vulnerable woman I was at the point, I also went to a viewing where an old Nigerian man told me that I could live there for free if I bought a house in my name, on his behalf, because he did not have a South African ID.
“No one will know my sister. You just buy the house under your name and I take care of everything, so many of my other friends from home also do it. You’ll live for free, think about it.” I was desperate, but I was not about to commit fraud because I was desperate for a home.
In our final year of university, we are warned about the high cost of living and how difficult it is to find apartments, especially when one moves to a big city, but I did not think that it would be this hard. Fortunately, I have finally found a home. Many are not as lucky as I have been and are probably still looking. DM