Trading Privilege for Privation, Family Hits a Nerve in South Africa

Lydia Polgreen, New York Times, September 16, 2013

Regina Matshega was gossiping with a neighbor over a fence between their shacks in the Phomolong squatter camp last month when a very unexpected sight suddenly popped into view: two ruddy-cheeked white South Africans, a man and a woman, with two towheaded toddlers running at their heels.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Ms. Matshega said. “What are white people doing here? They live in the rich places. They never come this side.”

The white couple wandered over, past the gutter overflowing with raw sewage, to say hello. They introduced themselves as Julian and Ena Hewitt, a middle-class family that lives in a gated estate in Pretoria, just six miles away. They had moved into a 100-square-foot shack with no electricity or running water next to their part-time housekeeper, Leah Nkambule, to experience what life was like in an informal settlement.


The Hewitts moved into the shack for the month of August as an experiment in radical empathy. Could a white middle-class South African family make it on $10 a day in the kind of living conditions that millions of black South Africans endure every day? “It is one thing to know from an academic perspective what divides us,” said Mr. Hewitt, who also blogged about the experience. “But what is it like to actually live it?”


They left behind in their comfortable suburban home everything but the barest necessities that people in squatter camps could afford. A few changes of clothes, a couple of pots, some blankets and thin mattresses were allowed. With no running water, tepid bucket baths replaced hot showers. Instead of flushing toilets, they shared a pit latrine with their neighbors. They also left behind their cars, taking local minibus taxis instead. Their children, Julia, 4, and Jessica, 2, even had to leave their toys behind. They were allowed one book to share.


Some people, especially residents of Mamelodi, the township that includes the squatter camp, have applauded the Hewitts for putting aside the comforts of their own life to see how the other half—or in this case, much more than half—live.


But their experiment also poked at some of South Africa’s sorest spots. Were they white slum tourists who had come to gawk at black poverty? Was this simply a publicity stunt, aimed at getting a book or movie deal—or worse still, a reality television show?

And even if their motives were noble, did they inadvertently confirm what many here suspect: black poverty gets little notice until a white person experiences and highlights it?

Some critics took to Twitter with outright nasty, even violent responses.”You know what? Hope the paraffin stove falls over and you people burn in that shack. Bye!” tweeted someone going by the handle @Keratilwe.


Busi Dlamini, executive director of Dignity International, a rights group, said that the Hewitts’ motives were clearly noble, but that their experiment in township living was bound to be fraught given the history of South Africa.

“It is what I call poverty pornography,” Ms. Dlamini said. “They put themselves at the center of the narrative that reinforces the centrality of whiteness in South Africa.”


His parents had been horrified that he decided to bring their young granddaughters to live in a township. After all, the Hewitts lived in a gated community, the kind of place where the wealthy shield themselves from South Africa’s violent crime epidemic.

But the couple insisted that their children should learn to cross South Africa’s ever-present boundaries of race and class.

“People might say it is irresponsible to bring children,” Mr. Hewitt said. “But I would rather say it is irresponsible to raise children in this country who can’t cross boundaries.”

Among the most immovable legacies of apartheid are the rigid geographic boundaries that separate the races. Far-flung, overcrowded townships like Mamelodi were the only urban places black people were permitted to live. Colored, or mixed race people, were restricted to their own areas, also on the periphery of cities. People of Asian descent were required to live in monoethnic suburbs as well. The nicest suburbs were for whites.

While well-to-do black people have moved into formerly white suburbs since apartheid ended in 1994, whites have generally not reciprocated. Indeed, even poor whites have their own slums, far from black people.

For all their irrepressible cheer, life in a shack was not easy for the Hewitts. August is the bitterest month of South Africa’s winter, and keeping warm in an uninsulated, thin-walled structure was impossible. They all slept on a pile of mattresses on the floor, fully clothed in multiple layers. Even so, in the first week the entire family had the flu.


The couple said they planned to keep up with the new friends they made. On a recent evening, Mr. Hewitt made the six-mile drive from his hilltop house back to the squatter camp to go to a lively new church the family discovered while living there.

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  • This will help no one.
    They could try to uplift the standard of living of their part-time housekeeper.

    Do they not know about the wild & wacky Biehl family?


  • Spartacus

    “His parents had been horrified that he decided to bring their young
    granddaughters to live in a township. After all, the Hewitts lived in a
    gated community, the kind of place where the wealthy shield themselves
    from South Africa’s violent crime epidemic.”


    I’m pretty sure, going by the family name, that these imbeciles are Anglos. Afrikaaners have a bit more sense than exposing their daughters to groids…

    They know what happens when the animals get too close:

  • NorthernWind

    The Hewitts are idiots, I cannot conclude any other way.

  • kjh64

    The underlying message is that the poor little Blacks live in shacks because of White people. The truth is that if there were no Whites in South African and there had never been any, Blacks would still be living in shacks. Black society is the way it is because Blacks make it that way.

    • Thaddeus Stevens

      The problem is that wealth is not distributed fairly. Under a fair economic system, there would be no need for anyone to go hungry, nor to live in shacks.

      • ncpride

        What? With the number of illegally seized White owned farms and businesses given to blacks (while the original owners were brutally slaughtered) they have done NOTHING with them, and they are starving again. The thought that you can make blacks in that country civilized by giving them wealth is hilarious!

      • Spartacus

        There is no fairness in real life. In real life, groids are dumb animals who can’t produce any wealth, and who would die in massive numbers if they wouldn’t leech on Whites.

      • NorthernWind

        If you have Blacks and Whites in the same economic system Blacks will fail to compete and fall behind. It’s the same way everywhere, it’s just that SA doesn’t have the welfare benefits that the US, UK, France, etc do. Thus they live in shacks instead of state sponsored housing and they go hungry instead of receiving food stamps.

        In fact, the economic system in SA is skewed to massively favour Blacks yet they still fail.

      • So CAL Snowman

        If you distribute all of the wealth “fairly” there is no incentive for competition and thus innovation which fosters technological innovation. If you do not reward the creators and innovators you will find yourself in a situation similar to that of the Soviet Union in the late 80s and early 90s. That’s why liberalism fails, because the world is not fair and we are all not equal. What does a low IQ, uneducable person have to offer society in order to receive “their fair share?” Why should those that are unable to contribute be rewarded?

        • Romulus

          Even here, on the net, freedom of association is targeted for diversity intervention. It appears that we are acquiring infiltraitors more frequently. If Abe foxman gets his way, we may have to resort to older technology to stay connected.

          • Sick of it

            I’ve noticed these guys over the past few days. Does Amren need another moderator?

        • If you take, say, $1 million away from the typical person who has $10 million, and give it to the typical person who has nothing, and come back in a few years, the person from whom you took the money found a way to earn it all back, and the person to whom you gave the money will have blown it all and will be back down to nothing.

          One of the axioms that was pounded into my head constantly when I was young was, “poor people have poor ways.” It took me a long time to figure out what that really meant.

          • Sick of it

            There have been numerous times in my life where I could have made a veritable fortune with $100,000 or less. Real payoffs require more than a meager initial investment.

          • dd121

            Most black athletes who earn millions file for bankruptcy within 5 years of leaving their sport.

          • Jefferson

            Black sports athletes rarely create generational wealth to pass on to their kids and grand kids.

            The vast majority of Blacks in professional sports end up broke before they even turn 40 years old and in many cases before they even turn 30 years old.

      • Skip Wellington

        If only African-Americans had equal access to wealth, they would all have large trousers, shiny necklaces and wear their hats askew, thus fulfilling the dream of MLK.

        Oh the inclusion!

      • Libs are We Todd Ed

        No, the problem is that the intelligence is not evenly distributed.
        Life is hard, it’s harder when you’re stupid.

      • Romulus

        According to the facts of geology,evolutionary biology, there is no such thing as egalitarianism you douche. Even the leftist hero einstein said rights are human concern. Take your trolling elsewhere. Engleman already has the honor!!

      • MBlanc46

        There’s certainly much to what you say, but there are other factors, for example, having more children than you can possibly raise, preferring idleness to work, and alcohol and substance abuse.

      • dd121

        Thaddeus Stevens has 2 comments and two votes. Commie troll.

      • gemjunior

        The solution is probably for anyone with wealth to give it to the poor so they could all be equal and all have equal homes right Thaddeus? If everything were totally equal it would be fair then I suppose? Well life is not fair and that proposal is communist and insane.

        • me

          Typical ‘leftist’ useful idiot. Or a troll. Not sure….

      • me

        It’s called WORK, and Bantus are allergic to it.

      • kjh64

        Why should wealth be “distributed”? Wealth should belong to those who earn it? Should grades in school be distributed equally when they are not equally earned? The answer is NO.
        Blacks are poor and live in shacks, not because of “wealth not being distributed” but because Blacks are obviously unwilling or unable to run an functioning civilization. Black nations are mired in dysfunction, corruption, poor management, failure to utilize natural wealth and people having more kids than they can afford. That is why Blacks are poor, living in shacks and such.

  • WmarkW

    I’m waiting for some other-half-lives experimenter to conclude:
    “We had no problem getting by on the local median income; just made sensible buying choices, and not go in for overpriced food items, bling, and drugs. The biggest problem was the low quality of neighbors in the community, making it unbearable to just be there.”

  • ncpride

    This article is infuriating. They actually have the gall to criticize Whites for living in their own slums away from violent black savages, despite the number of murdered Whites in that country. Why do these nitwit Hewitts think their White brethren suffer any less in their slums than blacks? Don’t bother with the comments section on the original article… they’ll make you furious. Clueless morons…

  • Truthseeker

    “His parents had been horrified that he decided to bring their young
    granddaughters to live in a township. After all, the Hewitts lived in a
    gated community, the kind of place where the wealthy shield themselves
    from South Africa’s violent crime epidemic.”

    His parents probably lived through Apartheid and understood the reasons for it.

  • mgs166

    Time to relieve the Hewitt’s of their parenting duties, immediately.

  • David Ashton

    Revenge of the Noble Savages.

    • Spartacus

      Nothing is noble about these vermin. They gang-rape one year-old children for magical powers !

      • David Ashton

        Irony, my friend.

        • Spartacus

          Oh… Sorry, it’s late and I’ve been drinking a little.

          • Romulus

            Single malt highland Scotch and some captain black!!
            Little comforts make all the difference.

          • David Ashton

            An hour with the daily papers and TV current affairs is sometimes enough to drive even the most sober patriot to Adam’s ale.

      • Romulus

        They should all be dragged into the street and shot. I have zero tolerance for sexual predators.

  • Andy

    In a country where 1 in 5 people of your ethnicity dies of murder and the majority of woman and girls have been raped, is it really a good idea to go “slumming” with your preschoolers?

  • bigone4u

    Child protective services should never allow children to be mixed into the madness that libtard adults inflict on them, whether in SA or in the USA. That said, it would be nice if the liberals in Congress moved into abandoned houses in Detroit to show their solidarity with the “brothers.” I believe life insurance is one of their Congressional benefits, right?

  • Spartacus

    Animals. Both this couple of imbeciles, and the groids amongst whom they lived…

  • Whitetrashgang

    Once again a large percent of white people are stupid, now 90-100 percent of mud people are but none the less a lot of our people are ,That’s why you can never get upset at the idiocy of a third of whites or whatever it is. They can go in a dumpster with the mud people.

  • Tim_in_Indiana

    Not a word about child endangerment in the article. But what would you expect from the NYT?

  • MekongDelta69

    The Hewitts moved into the shack for the month of August as an experiment in radical empathy mental derangement.

    While well-to-do black people have moved into formerly white suburbs since apartheid ended in 1994, whites have generally not reciprocated.
    Look – a new low in stupidity for the NYT.

    • ms_anthro

      Who wants to bet that the lapdog anti-White that wrote this article lives in a predominantly White doorman building in a zip code not known for its saturation of muds?

  • Lewis33

    What would have happened to this couple had they not announced to everyone that they were doing a project/blog and other media outlets would be watching. Guessing we would have a different story then.

  • Libs are We Todd Ed

    I don’t feel sad when a communist wins a Darwin award, but you think these idiots would learn from history.

    “It was supposed to have been one of Amy Biehl’s last days in South Africa. Amy was a Fullbright exchange scholar at the University of Western Cape Community Law Center where she had helped to develop voter registration programs for South African blacks

    On August 25, 1993, while Amy was driving three black colleagues back to Cape Town’s Guguletu Township, a group of youths pelted her car with stones and forced it to stop. Dozens of young men then surrounded the car repeating the militant Pan Africanist Congress chant, “One settler [white person], one bullet!” Amy was then pulled from the car, struck in the head with a brick as she tried to flee, and then beaten and stabbed in the heart while she lay on the ground. During the attack, Amy’s black friends yelled that she was a “comrade” and friend of black South Africa to no avail. Amy was carried back to the car after the attack by her friends who then drove her to the nearest police station where she died. Amy was 26 years old at the time of her murder.”

  • e2657383

    They should just move their family into the bad part of town if they want to find out what real White Privilege is…briefly.

  • IstvanIN

    Why didn’t they pick a white slum or squatter camp? There are plenty of SA whites who live in little campers and huts.

    • Libs are We Todd Ed

      They wouldn’t make it into the NY Times if they did that.
      This was just a publicity stunt, no one would have reported it if the Hewitt’s had not blogged and publicized the fact.

  • Kathy M

    Look for this family to end up butchered somewhere.

  • ncpride

    Of course they are, yet they persist in writing this sob story, White guilt, fairy-tale nonsense. They don’t want the rest of the world to know what’s really going on over there, and the media have been incredibly successful in keeping these murderous, dirty little secrets.

    Meanwhile, we have people like Thaddeus who apparently lives in liberal la-la land parroting more loony liberal nonsense, that’s utterly out of touch with the realities of life in SA.

  • shmo123

    What did the altruistic foolishness of a time share in the slums accomplish? Four cases of the flu? I’ll retire to Bedlam.

  • gemjunior

    Why do they even have a housekeeper? Is mother out working all day unable to keep her own house? Crippled much, “Ena”? What a pair of pompous assholes – sympathizing so much with their “housekeeper” they go to live in her conditions – anyone notice how stupid it is that they feel perfectly fine about running around chatting about how they have a total stranger in the house because they are to precious to do their own housework? If you want a housekeeper, at least be big enough and honest enough to be frank that you have different stations in life. How NOBLE and LIBERAL to want to lower yourself Mr. and Mrs Hewitt, ya retards. Most people strive for “upward” mobility. Oh God, spare me from the stupidest among us. And Lord God — did she say she had 2 tow-headed toddlers in the midst of all this? Have some whites gone so far as to hate their own children and want to place them in a sick game of Russian roulette among rapists and body-part chopping cannibals and juju medicine men? I don’t know what to say.

    • kjh64

      It doesn’t matter if she was working all day, she and her husband could still do their own housework, everyone else does. If they want a housekeeper to come in and clean, fine. However, if they are so concerned about her living conditions, pay her more instead of doing some stupid stunt like this.

  • me

    It’s a sickness called ‘White Guilt’, imposed on Whites by the powers that be. It’s all part of a genocidal plan to reduce or eliminate the White race. The weak-minded Whites, like the Hewitts, are the ones assisting the enemies of Whites everywhere. The Hewitts should have their children taken away from them, because they’re mentally ill.

    • Brian

      If they keep up with this ‘plan’ of theirs, the kiddies may come to a bad end, through disease, murder or kidnapping.

  • Jotun Hunter

    what a bunch of idiots – the worst father imaginable

  • Luca

    Liberalism is a sick cult. This is no different then the people of Jonestown singing “kumbyah” while lining up to drink the kool-aid.

    • ms_anthro

      And forcing cups of it down their children’s throats.

      The parents in this story need to be exiled to the black slum forever and their innocent little ones removed to a safe home with competent caregivers immediately.

  • Spartacus

    They’re not Afrikaners. Their names are Anglo.

  • GeneticsareDestiny

    If white adults want to go live in a black squatter camp, that’s their (stupid) prerogative. But they should not have brought their children with. Those two little girls are going to suffer for their parents’ foolishness.

    I only hope something awful doesn’t happen to them.

  • ms_anthro

    Her parents are literally crazy. You can’t understand crazy, which is why we call it crazy. “Liberalism is a mental disorder” isn’t just a cute catchphrase we speakers of hatefacts made up to be glib. It’s the truth.

  • ms_anthro

    No offense to you but I would like to see your sister horsewhipped for the trauma she inflicted on your niece. It’s bad enough when these morons endanger themselves, but when they put their own children in harm’s way, I see red.

  • Cannot Tell

    Next article: White Family Who Imitated Nickel and Dimed Book Brutally Murdered.

  • I have some magic beans and a bridge if they are interested in a bargain.