Emoya Estate: The Luxury Shanty Town In S. Africa Offering ‘Poverty Porn’ For The Rich

 @MarkJohansonIBT
on November 20 2013 9:09 PM

It’s the first and only “shanty town” in the world equipped with under-floor heating and wireless Internet access, but it certainly wasn’t built for the millions of South Africans living under the poverty line. Nope; this shanty town is for you, the luxury tourist.

“Now you can experience staying in a shanty within the safe environment of a private game reserve,” Emoya Estate boasts on its website. “The shanty town is ideal for team building, braais (barbecues), fancy theme parties and an experience of a lifetime.”

Located just outside of Bloemfontein, South Africa’s judicial capital, the faux settlement accommodates up to 52 guests and is “completely safe and child-friendly.” It boasts “donkey geysers,” a communal fire pit surrounded by chairs made of rubber tires, a ring of corrugated iron huts with paraffin lamps, candles and battery-operated radios, as well as a communal long-drop toilet -- all for the kind of “authentic” experience that has critics across the globe up in arms.

“Most offensive of course is the naturalization of informal settlements as some sort of indigenous habitat,” noted Zachary Levenson of the popular blog Africa Is A Country. “No one wants to live in a shack, not a single damn person. This is a housing type and spatial form that emerges from necessity, precisely because there’s a worsening housing crisis in South African cities -- not because this is how some select ethno-cultural group chooses to live.”

One night in the shanty town costs about $82, more than most South Africans living in informal settlements see in an entire month and a little less than half the average monthly salary. Sipho Hlongwane wrote in an opinion piece in Johannesburg’s Business Day that the luxury shanty town reduced the pain of poverty “to an experience that you can dip in and out of for more money than those poor shack dwellers have in a month.”  

Emoya Estate also runs a private game reserve, conference center and spa. Its shanty town operation opened ahead of the 2010 Soccer World Cup, though news of its existence went viral this past week after comedian Stephen Colbert called this exotic hybrid of opulent luxury and extreme deprivation “poverty porn” on his Comedy Central show.

Critics have widely panned the shanty town as insensitive, tasteless and offensive to those who have no choice but to live in informal settlements, but its owner told eNews Channel Africa that he was simply filling a gap in the market.

"Regular overseas visitors suggested that they would like to sleep in a real shanty rather than just seeing them from a tour bus, as you would in Soweto and Cape Town," Buks Westraad explained. "And that is where the idea was born -- to start a small township with its own shebeen which would be Emoya's own unique, themed hotel.

"We believe we've taken something with a negative connotation and turned it into something positive, which reflects the ingenuity of our South African people."

So-called poverty tourism is hardly a new phenomenon. Earlier this year, International Business Times rounded up some of the world’s most contentious tourism attractions and explained why they’re considered so controversial. CLICK HERE for a look.

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