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Pretoria - Would you leave your four-bedroomed house in the suburbs to live in a shack for a month?
But the Hewitt family of Pretoria East have done just that.
Julian Hewitt, his wife, Ena, and their daughters Julia, 4, and Jessica, 2, left their life in Wapadrand and moved to the Phomolong informal settlement in Mamelodi on August 4.
They have no running water, no electricity, no car, and they live in a 9-square-metre shack, with a budget of R3 000 for the month.
“We are not doing this to prove something. We are doing this so we can gain a better understanding of the way other people live. It’s easy to live in a middle-class bubble and become out of touch with the lives of others,” Ena said.
She works as an estate agent and Julian is the fellowship director at the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation.
When the Pretoria News visited the family, Julian was at work in Joburg.
He took the Metrorail train from Mamelodi and the Gautrain, which they calculated was the cheapest way of getting to Joburg.
Last week, Julia and Jessica were taken to school by taxi or a bus early every morning.
The average income of a South African, according to the 2011 census, is R3 000 a month.
“We have R100 a day, but we survive,” Ena said, adding that a lot of people earned less than that.
Hewitt said transport costs account for 60 percent of their budget, but they paid only R170 rent for their shack for the month.
They did not bring along any of their usual luxuries – no car, no heater, no stove and no sleeping bags.
“We wanted to make the month an authentic experience and not like a camping trip,” she said.
It has not been a walk in the park.
The family have eaten meat only once in the two weeks they have been there. They get their protein from beans and lentils.
They cook on a Primus stove and Ena said it took much longer to cook their meals than on an ordinary stove.
The family bathe in a bucket with a kettle of hot water every day, and they brave the cold, as millions do, every night.
“The extremes are insane. It’s boiling hot during the day and freezing cold at night,” she said.
They all sleep on mattresses on the floor.
The children have made many friends in the area and they all play together when everyone is back from school in the afternoons.
“I am amazed at how the kids just fit in and there are always friends around,” she said, adding they brought no toys from home and did not have a television.
The girls keep themselves busy building matchstick houses, aeroplanes and clothes peg chains. They were playing with wire cars in the street when the Pretoria News visited, and their shoes were nowhere to be seen.
Ena misses her shower, her vegetable garden, her car, her heater and sometimes her space.
“We will appreciate what we have a lot more when we go back home,” she said.
Ena said the community had been helpful and friendly and they talked to everyone on their afternoon walks.
“The community is the best thing. People constantly care about us,” she said.
Their domestic worker lives on the same property, and they visited her numerous times before they undertook their “journey”.
“This is great for us as a family because there are fewer distractions here,” Ena said.
They will go home on August 31, ready for the next journey.
* If you would like to follow the Hewitt family’s blog, visit www .mamelodiforamonth.co.za