How Many Cattle does your Household Own?

As I was recently filling out our South African Census 2011 forms – these tasks at the bottom of our family’s motivational pyramid inevitably land on my pile – I couldn’t help but laugh. You would not find animal dung as a heating material choice on an American census form.

I especially loved the admonition that “wood, coal, and animal dung cannot be used for lighting” whereas “candles cannot be used for heating or cooking.” Who would have known?

Also, I felt a bit disappointed that I couldn’t come up with anything for the livestock section, not even one goat, when there was such a multitude of boxes to check.

One thing that I loved about this survey was that there was plenty of space to enter all our kids. Lines and lines of empty space long after I was done. In American forms, I often have to squeeze the last child between lines because there is only room for three, and in Europe you might as well wear a big sticker on your forehead screaming “weirdo” when you show up anywhere with four kids. “What, these are all your own? Are you out of your mind?”

I knew right away that I’d have fun with this survey when my gaze drifted down the “what is your home built of” box beyond brick. Wood and corrugated zinc/iron seemed fair enough, but plastic, cardboard, mud and cement mix, thatch/grass, asbestos (yikes), and, get this, wattle and daub? What the hell is that? Is it whatever is holding this house together?

A Transkei home. Photo courtesy of Jacky du Plessis
You wonder if the concept of using a level might have made a difference?

So I guess those census questions are there for a reason. The sad truth is that too many people in this country live in mere hovels, cobbled together using whatever materials can be found. Or maybe I should say “found” in quotes, because I don’t think the guy who built this house just happened to come across a pile of these building materials laying around without a use:

Photo: Anonymous email

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