There’s a bustle on Joe Slovo Park’s main street. Horns blast from minibus taxis and hooves clop as scrap-and-metal men drive their carts down the road.
People jostle against each other. Some laugh loudly and others finalise a business deal. A baby cries, and there are periodic shouts from Laurita, who runs the scrapyard next to Christ Take-Aways.
But it is the shack on the second floor opposite the scrapyard that draws the eye in this corner of Joe Slovo Park, a township located between Milnerton and Montague Gardens just outside Cape Town.
Fernando Mkhabele, 34, was born in Mozambique but has lived in South Africa for more than two decades. He has never done anything else but be a construction worker. Rightly so, because building makes him happy and “feel like dancing”.
Mkhabele did construction work with his uncle when he was a boy. His two shacks in Joe Slovo showcase his skill as an artisan.
He makes use of recycled items he collects from the scrapyard across the road from his shack. Not only is this cost-effective, but it enables him to redesign the items to his liking. He is a skilled builder but prefers doing interiors.
A tour of Mkhabele’s shack is an eye-opening experience as the visitor views the results of his skill.
The luxurious side chair that one would expect in a five-star spa harmonises with the design and colour of his bed. The matching cushions finish off a stylish bedroom set. The lighting system that encircles the bedroom can change
colour, creating atmospheres varying from warm and cosy to elegant luxury. On a self-made stand is a big-screen television, showing a paused YouTube video titled Ingenious Construction Workers That Are at Another Level.
The room is finished off with a unique design on the ceiling, done by Mkhabele.
A kitchenette opposite his bed offers everything a person needs. There’s a stove and a basin, which he points out by opening the tap — he has running water. And there is an air conditioner, which he picked up as scrap and fixed.
During a house tour, one would normally skip the bathroom, right? Not in this case. There is running water in the basin and a large walk-in shower. But it is the toilet that really catches one’s attention.
“He wants to feel comfortable, he does not want people to know it is a toilet, it must feel like a chair,” says Mkhabele’s friend, Keke Molapo.
The toilet is fit for a king; the leather covering on a self-designed chair looks more like a throne. What gives its real purpose away is the open cover showing “the hole” and a thin toilet paper roll next to it.
Mkhabele has built similar places in Mitchells Plain, Morning Star and elsewhere in Joe Slovo.
He came to South Africa to pursue a better life as “life is not easy on that side”. “You cannot get money there,” said Mkhabele, who always had a driving ambition to make sure that his family lived a good life.
He is the main breadwinner for an extended family that includes his wife, four children, his parents and brothers back in Mozambique.
His wife and children live in a shack similar to his because, he says, he “couldn’t yet build her a house. It is not easy because I’m still feeding a lot of people, people must eat.”
The Covid-19 pandemic had a detrimental effect on his work, but Mkhabele is grateful for whatever commissions he can get. He is in the process of registering his business, Fernando Mkhabele Interior Design.
Mkhabele will be able to spend time with his family over Christmas because he secured a commission in Mozambique. His laugh rings out loud in the hustle and bustle of Joe Slovo Park as he reminisces on Christmases past, when his family would slaughter a cow for the festivities.
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