First fire fears, now theft
Local politicians blamed for absence and lack of unity in dealing with the crisis
Residents in Khayelitsha’s BM section, devastated by a fire which left five dead and more than 3 000 homeless, are sleeping on the charred remains of their homes to protect their small plots of land from being claimed by others.
The fire started in the early hours of New Year’s Day and fuelled by pounding gale force winds, spread rapidly through the densely-packed settlement.
Homes, shebeens and spaza shops were all destroyed within minutes.
As 17 firefighting vehicles and a helicopter tried to navigate the warren of structures and the howling wind, BM residents scrambled to save themselves and their possessions.
One volunteer told City Press that the fire engines, already hindered by the narrow, almost impassable roads, ran out of water and had nowhere nearby to refill.
Residents have blamed alcohol for the blaze, telling authorities someone was cooking on a paraffin stove while drunk and fell asleep.
The cause is still being investigated, but BM section looks like a wasteland.
Charred ruins of beds, microwaves, washing machines, fridges, corrugated iron, asbestos and other shack building materials are strewn across the land.
Some of the toilets built as part of the City of Cape Town’s new sanitation plan have also been destroyed.
According to Wilfred Solomons-Johannes of the city’s disaster management unit, about a thousand people are living temporarily in the nearby Oliver Tambo Hall, where the city is providing blankets and food.
Solomons-Johannes told Sapa yesterday that four people died in the fire: all men, two of them 25, a 21-year-old and a 29-year-old.
A fifth man, identified as Lungelo Krexe, died in hospital on Friday.
However, people in BM section as well as people helping the homeless claim the body count is higher.
Andile Madondile, a Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) volunteer who lives in the area, claimed there were 22 fatalities, including one person whose body he found.
Many residents told City Press they preferred to sleep on the site of their burned homes rather than moving into the massive hall.
“Theft of land is a serious problem after a fire,” said Madoda Ndlebende. He said criminals were also roaming the area looking for any scrap materials they could sell for cash.
This week, residents spoke about losing their homes in the fire.
When Mavis Mikani saw the flames in the early hours of the morning, she did not think the fire would reach her shack.
But it was smoky and she wanted to get her baby away until the fire was put out, so she and the infant left the area.
But when she came back her shack – with everything she owned in it – had been destroyed.
Khuthala Ndyulo and her five children lost all their possessions in the fire, apart from the clothes they were wearing.
Amid the ruins, Nthando Tanjana was salvaging bits of corrugated iron from what used to be the home he shared with a friend. “I saved a few clothes, but my television and ID document is gone. People have lost all their documents, including passports. It’s f****d up everything,” he said.
Gavin Silber, co-ordinator of the Social Justice Coalition which works in Khayelitsha, visited BM section on Friday.
Afterwards, he had cutting words for the province’s political leadership.
“The premier, Helen Zille, the mayor, Patricia De Lille, the head of the provincial ANC, Marius Fransman and the leader of the opposition in the city, Tony Ehrenreich, as well as the local ward councillor, Monde Nqulwana, should have visited BM Section together and showed political unity at a time like this,” Silber said.
“Instead the premier and the mayor have been absent and Fransman used his visit to score political points. Khayelitsha is an ANC stronghold in a DA province. Often the councillors blame the city for the township’s problems and vice-versa. But both are responsible.
“There needs to be joint planning and co-operation to make informal settlements safer, not only in Cape Town but across the country.”
» Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor visited the area on Friday and handed temporary IDs to people who lost them in the fire.
» Several organisations, including Equal Education and the Social Justice Coalition, are assisting victims.
The TAC is collecting clothing, food and nappies at their Khayelitsha office. People who wish to make donations can contact Sonia on 078 7037 666 or drop goods off at the TAC Khayelitsha office at Sulani Drive, Town One properties.
– West Cape News and GroundUp News www.groundup.org.za
– Sandiso Phaliso and Nathan Geffen