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Creative ways to live in the Mother City

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High rents make survival in Cape Town expensive, but there are other options

Anyone who knows a little about Cape Town will tell you it’s arguably the creative capital of South Africa. After it was named a Unesco City of Design in 2017, it’s no wonder artists from everywhere flock to the Mother City.

They seek opportunity, creative energy and work. Whether they’re searching for fashion and film, or if they want to make music, paint, act or dance, chances are they’ll find it in Cape Town.

But with the city’s high property prices and the huge demand to live here, some creatives are battling to find a place to live. 

We spoke to three people who have compromised with some unusual living arrangements.

Anita Kamya, 25, a singer-songwriter from the Eastern Cape, says it’s more than just the work opportunities that brought her here – it’s the types of art that the city celebrates, and the type of expression of that art which interests her.  “I’m in tune with the sound that’s being made here. Even though I would have musical opportunities in Port Elizabeth, it’s more about the type of music being made.

Musician Anita Kamya works at a backpackers for her board and lodging. Picture: Supplied

“In PE the sound is influenced by traditional African music and is more indigenous. I don’t mind that but I’m in tune with the international sound you find in Cape Town. Reminds me of Erykah Badu or Robert Glasper.”

Kamya has opted to work at a backpackers in Long Street in return for free lodging, food and wifi. “I get a free breakfast and dinner. Nothing much is different. It’s just like having people over at my house all the time. You work behind the desk in return for living here. Five shifts of eight hours, which is a standard entry level job. My shifts vary – morning, late, night and so on. It is never the same nine to five, Monday to Friday. Sometimes I have to sacrifice weekends, which is okay because it’s all for the music.”

Kamya is thankful her job allows her the mental freedom to focus on what she loves. When night shifts are quiet, she can write or set up a mic to record or practise. Another advantage of her arrangement is being able to live in the CBD. “If I was working a normal job I would have more money but less emotional and mental capacity to keep pushing on with music. I also love the fact that I get to live in town. It means someone is always awake and available to work.”

Her parents own property in Port Elizabeth, so she values the stability which comes from home ownership. “The feeling of knowing that you won’t have to uproot yourself any time soon is priceless and definitely  worth working towards.”

The House-sitter
Another interesting living situation is that of Sarah Davids, 24, of Stellenbosch. She works as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer while simultaneously house-sitting for lodging and getting paid for it.

Although there are occasions – “a few days here and there” – when Davids is homeless because she hasn’t found a house to sit, she says the temporary living options in Cape Town are so mary and varied that it is as easy as booking into a backpackers for R250 a night, which is about half what she makes per day looking after luxury houses in Camps Bay.

“The biggest problem about house-sitting without having your own home to go back to would have to be the fact that during the summer, many of the homes are occupied because the owners are back in town to celebrate the festive season,” says Davids.

With a good database of regular clients whose friends and family need the type of service that Davids provides, she says she’s able to survive for up to six months of the year just living in other people’s houses. This is usually for two weeks at a time, but is sometimes longer if they are foreigners who own luxury homes in the city.  
When not house-sitting, Sarah usually spends time at home with her parents, who own a farm outside Cape Town.

She says the farm is not the ideal place for her to be because she believes that in order to build her career, she needs to be in the city to meet the right people.  “Right now, I’m hoping to get a full-time job as an illustrator and then potentially my own apartment in town. Somewhere close to Bree Street would be ideal.” 

Asked whether they would like to have their own homes, there was a consensus between the three that their living arrangements either served or were still serving a particular purpose in their lives. But they agreed their current living arrangements were not necessarily something they would consider for forever.

Lukhanyo Mlandu, 34, who also hails from the Eastern Cape, is an assistant production manager, while also dabbling in DJing and hosting a successful monthly music event in Woodstock. When he moved out of his mother’s home he went from a stable living situation to surfing people’s couches but, according to him, it was easier to create art that way.

Lukhanyo Mlandu saved money by surfing couches. Picture: Supplied

When he arrived in Cape Town he moved in with creative friends in Mowbray and then Rondebosch, and that was just the beginning. “I still paid rent and contributed to the household with food and electricity, but I didn’t pay a full rent, and that helped a lot.” 

Mlandu now has his own place and is considering moving overseas to continue working in the creative field. “It was convenient for me to be a couch-surfer and I was exactly where I needed to be in order to make music. I wasn’t focused on relationships or anything, so living on a couch was not a problem. All we did for like a year was just produce tracks and focus on the hustle,” says Mlandu. 

Many people realise that buying property isn’t easy or cheap, and Mlandu is one of them. But, he also sees the income benefits of owning your own place and being able to let it or put it on Airbnb.

While both Kamya and Mlandu agree that privacy is the main thing you miss when living in these types of co-living situations, it’s worth it when you consider the current price of property, they say. 

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