Leaning tower of Paarl

Jenni Evans, News24

Cape Town – Judah Tafari's handmade wooden house rises five storeys into the Paarl sky and is finished off with pretty attic windows and a viewing tower.

With its mixture of soft pastels, the red, yellow and green of the Ethiopian flag, and the white trim, from a distance it could be a Tibetan temple or an Ethiopian hilltop church.

Standing tall in Mbekweni, a suburb of Paarl, the house, leaning slightly to its side, has first-timers to the suburb stopping to stare.

''This is the House of the Twelve Tribes of Israel,'' Tafari says, his red, yellow and green crocheted ''crown'' covering his head.

''Ethiopia is like our mother,'' he says, adding that he regards the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie as the king.

Tafari he grew up during apartheid and became increasingly disillusioned by the behaviour of the security forces who called themselves Christian.

He drifted away from Christianity as it was practised in the town and, listening to Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh, became increasingly drawn to the Rastafarian faith.

During the 21 years that he has lived in Mbekweni, he has scavenged wood, nails, furniture and built his dream house, storey by storey.

Complete with a cushioned deck, with a sweeping view over the mountains, he says that only men live there, in line with their religion.

His adult son Junior, with his dreadlocks also swaddled into a tall crown, bustles around at the back.

School was difficult for Junior, he says, because children of Rastafarians struggle to retain their religious identity with school rules insisting on short hair.

The fascia boards of the house are made of empty plastic trays from chocolate boxes – the indentations that once held small bites of chocolate adding an artistic flourish to the finishes.

The entrance is through the kitchen where the men-only commune prepare their ''Ital'' food – the yeast-free bread and vegetarian dishes that Rastafarians eat.

At present most of the ground floor is a small fruit-and-veg enterprise called ''Judah's Fruit and Veg and Shoe Repair'', where he sells some of the fruit produced in the region and giant wheels of white pumpkin.

Several steep wooden handmade ladders lead to a warren of rooms furnished with cushions and bedding, with floral curtains and bamboo shades providing the finishing touches.

A couch has also been carried up to create a lounge.

The second-last storey is their prayer room with a Bible opened to Leviticus and a bolt of cloth with an extract from the Psalms painted on to it.

Psalm 110 reads: ''Die Here het vir my koning gese kom sit aan my regter hand''. (The Lord told my king come and sit at my right hand).

In a different time, Tafari says he may have designed architectural masterpieces.

''I liked mathematics and was good at it. I think I could have been an engineer or something. I like building things.''

His only complaint is that young people don't seem to appreciate what they have. This frustrates him because he was deprived of the opportunity to explore his own full potential because of apartheid.

He says the viewing tower is out of bounds and, very soon, the upper floors will have to come down too.

Media attention alerted the council which said the leaning mansion was not safe.

''They said I have to take it down because it is not safe,'' he said. ''But it is strong. When the wind blows, our house stands, but some of those [brick] houses have not done as well.''

He will eventually have only the ground floor left but, in the meantime, he has peaches and juicy ripe tomatoes to sell.

And reggae music plays in the background.