Ndebele people sometimes add elaborate facades to homesteads and important communal spaces like churches. The shapes of these facades are often echoed in courtyard walls, reinforcing the grandeur of these buildings. But rural communities are not necessarily concerned with preserving these comparatively unusual architectural features once buildings of this kind have been abandoned.
Homesteads may be abandoned once their inhabitants die or move to new sites, in search of better fields for planting maize and other produce, or in the hope of finding grazing. As it is believed that a family's ancestors continue to occupy these sites, others generally refrain from vandalising them. Homesteads are often left to decay naturally, slowly eroding during the annual rainy season.
Abandoned homesteads are a common sight in outlying rural communities. In some cases, the former inhabitants of these homesteads have completely forsaken their rural roots, either relocating to sprawling peri-urban settlements, or moving on to work and live permanently in large urban centres like Durban and Johannesburg.
Abandoned homesteads provide a haunting reminder of the past. Although often idealised, this past was generally very harsh, requiring communities to seek out a meagre existence through subsistence farming.
By Professor Sandra Klopper