23 January 2013
Fire left about 800 households destitute on new years day in BM Section, Khayelitsha. Many of these families are sheltering at the O.R Tambo hall a short distance from the scene of the fire.
In the hall you hear the echo of children laughing as they jump up and down on a jumping castle donated to them by a community member. Their parents were busy sorting donated clothes.
Welcome Batyi is co-ordinating activities at the hall. He says the number of people sleeping there fluctuates from 350 to 500 people. The number of people in the hall is counted every night when the gates are closed. “The number of mothers remains consistent because they have babies,” said Batyi.
Eight showers are installed outside in addition to the ones at the hall.
Batyi explained that they tried regulating the number of people sheltered at the hall to avoid just any person coming inside and claiming they too had a burnt down shack by introducing a tag system. Each family was given a tag containing a number specifically identifying that family. But the City picked up that there was duplication happening where one number represented more than one family. So then families were belonging to a specific number. Neighbours also had to confirm that the family lost their house in the fire. This too didn’t work, so a system with each person’s photograph and site number on the card has been introduced. Batyi also mentioned that there are other families still not back from holidays yet whose houses have burnt down.
Stacked up against the wall were multi coloured mattresses, but the number of the mattresses seemed far less than the number of people sleeping in the hall.
The fire victims receive food from various people including community members, organisations and churches. Batyi singled out Reverend Makeni who has consistently provided porridge and coffee in the morning since day one.
According to Batyi the Premier Helen Zille and Mayor Patricia De Lille visited. They explained to the people that they have consulted with Disaster Management and have identified a place in Mfuleni where they would be placed in temporary housing facilities. Batyi said that community members agreed, but he was not sure when this would take place.
“Not everything is running as smoothly as we would like,” he explained. “The young boys keep the elders from sleeping at night by playing music and chasing after girls. We even had to enforce a rule that at 11pm there should be no more movement.” Batyi explained that once the gates close at 9pm the only people who can come in are people who work in restaurants and return in the early hours of the morning.
Home Affairs has also replaced identity documents and birth certificates lost in the fire. The department set up a mobile office in the hall for two days that remained open till late.
Fourty five year old Babalwa Ndesana has been staying in the BM section in Khayelithsha for twelve years. She could only save her TV and bed before losing everything else in the fire. She said conditions in the hall were not good at all as they didn’t wash. She complained that sometimes the food was not cooked properly and the juices they get are expired.
Ndesana also said that the young boys run around at night chasing girls. She said that one mother woke to find that her fifteen year old daughter was not lying next to her in the morning but next to a boy. As a result the mother said she was going to take her daughter to the clinic for family planning. Ndesana also explained that they still have not received any clothing items that were donated to them. Instead the items are taken to the fire station nearby and they are told that they can’t be given the clothes now because they have nowhere to store them.