His neighbours and even his friends and family sniggered and sneered when he rolled up his sleeves and announced he was going to build his own home. Fed up of waiting for an RDP house, Thabo Kolodi was taking matters into his own hands.
And so, over the course of about a year, the 34-year-old gathered discarded building materials and supplies and made his dream come true. Now the people who laughed at him can only stand back and admire what Thabo has created.
HIS DREAM HOUSE
The double-storey, seven-room house, with its immaculately trimmed hedge and glorious garden, stands out like a lush oasis amid the sea of shacks and small RDP houses in Ikageng near Potchefstroom in North West.
Thabo is a gardener by trade and evidence of his green thumb is everywhere. His roses are coming into bloom, different kinds of aloes are flourishing in an old wheelbarrow and the freshly mown lawn is as green as a golf course. A variety of birds make a symphony of sound as they visit to suck nectar from the flowers.
“If you guys come here in the morning you’ll see many more different species of birds,” Thabo says. “Oh, they’re so beautiful and it makes me so happy to see them in my garden.” Thabo, who is also a handyman, says working with his hands gives him meaning and purpose. “Each of us must work for his or her own improvement,” he says.
HIS PLAN B
Thabo arrived in Ikageng in 2008 and built a one-room shack. “There were lots of people starting to stake their claims and building shacks here,” he recalls. In 2012 he applied for an RDP house and his application was approved in 2014. But when nothing had happened three years later, he decided to take things into his own hands and built his dream house for himself, girlfriend Dimakatso Tsepe (32) and their 10-year-old daughter, Happiness.
“It wasn’t easy. When your expectations turn to zero, we ask many questions – ‘Why me? What have I done to deserve this?’ We start to wallow in self-pity and forget we can dig deep to find something within ourselves that can make us creative and happy.
We may be small, but we are capable of very big things,” Thabo says sagely. He told himself no matter how hard life may seem, he would succeed. “Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama inspired me,” he says, sitting on a bench made of palettes in his garden.
"They wrote their own chapters in life. I also want to write my own chapter. “People won’t have time for you if you’re always angry or complaining. I didn’t want to blame people for not building me an RDP house so I started building my own house.
“It was a painful journey sometimes. Many people laughed at me, saying I was losing my marbles. Even some of my family members weren’t supportive, or weren’t sure what I was trying to do.
The pain is severe when you don’t get support from the people who are close to you.” But a seven-room house proved the naysayers well and truly wrong.
ONE MAN'S TRASH IS ANOTHER MAN'S TREASURE
It's amazing what people throw away, says Thabo, whose entire home is made from recycled building waste. His place has two bedrooms, a living room, a guest bedroom and a bathroom on the ground floor.
On the first floor, there is another bedroom, lounge and a balcony to entertain guests. The balcony has sensor lights that illuminate the garden at night. The furniture is all hand-me-downs from his employers in Potchefstroom while the blinds in his bedroom and main lounge downstairs and the cane lounge furniture on the balcony were bought at a pawn shop.
The burglar bars were salvaged from a dumpsite. Thabo recounts walking around the township and the Potchefstroom suburb where he works and asking builders to give him waste materials rather than to throw it away. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
“We can’t sit about and wait for help. And we can’t spend the little money we have on things like building materials if we don’t have money to build our dream homes. We have to be innovative,” he says.
“People in the township would say I was crazy. I used to pick up stuff in the street and bring home all sorts of things I found at the dumpsite which I thought would be useful in my project.”
THABO THE DREAMER
Thabo completed matric in 2009 and was unable to further his studies, despite a family in Potchefstroom offering to pay for him to go to university, he says.
“I had to work and look after my mom and siblings,” he explains. He is nonetheless thrilled that even with his meagre earnings as a gardener, he has been able to register his brother Mpho for a BA degree at North West University’s Mafikeng campus and help his sister, Doreen (24), who has a Bed degree from the same institution.
“I’m a dreamer, and I know that one day I’ll drive a Porsche!” Then he picks up a garden fork and starts tending to his flowerbeds as birds sing among the foliage.