Glamour slumming in Bloem

2013-11-18 08:00

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“What the f**k is wrong with you?” and “Verwoerd is laughing in hell” read two of the countless hate mails and tweets that the Emoya Luxury Hotel & Spa outside Bloemfontein has received this week after the resort’s Shanty Town accommodation went viral.

Emoya’s website offers “the only Shanty Town in the world with underfloor heating and wireless internet access!” It also boasts “long-drop effect toilets” and “donkey geysers”.

Staff at the up-market resort were hurt and angry when City Press called them the day after political satirist Stephen Colbert lampooned Emoya on his American TV show, setting off a fresh wave of derision.

“At best insensitive and at worst poverty porn,” is the gist of the world’s responses to the faux corrugated iron shacks built ahead of the Fifa World Cup in 2010, where one can “experience staying in a shanty within the safe environment of a private game reserve” for R850 a night. Their website describes living in a shack as a “lifestyle”.

Colbert accused them of “commodifying poverty” and came up with some new words to describe the Emoya experience, including “glamping” (glamour camping) and “glumming” (glamourslumming).

“It’s just so ridiculous. It’s unacceptable how people have attacked us. The words?...?in these emails are unchristian. I can’t even repeat them,” said a staff member at Emoya. “[The shacks] are a negative thing we made positive. It was part of uplifting the community and creating unity.”

The resort’s Buks Westraad sent City Press a statement saying that after the Colbert Show “the world now definitely knows how innovative we South Africans are”.

Acknowledging the plight of the impoverished, he said the shanty is as much part of our culture as rustic houses (hartbeeshuisies) built by the “boere”.

At the blog Africa is a Country, Zachary Levenson wrote about the “township tour without a township” where you can stay for a night “for a price nearly equivalent to the median monthly income of a South African domestic worker”.

“No one wants to live in a shack, not a single damn person,” wrote Levenson.

“This is a housing type?...?that emerges from necessity, precisely because there’s a worsening housing crisis in South African cities – not because this is how some select ethnocultural group chooses to live.”

Some of the hate mail begged Emoya to close the lodge.

“Tell me you are not trying to make money out of the fact that some people have to live in shacks?” reads one. “The concept is deeply offensive and mocks what the majority of South Africans have to endure on a daily basis,” reads another.

“What is next?” asked a writer? “A natural-disaster theme park? Refugee-camp tent accommodation?”

Westraad insists Shanty Town is a positive experience that many high-profile guests enjoy giving their children to teach them the circumstances in which they had grown up.

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