Masiphumelele families battle to rebuild homes after blaze

City of Cape Town says it can’t provide fire kits due to National Government budget cuts

By Marecia Damons

1 February 2022

A hundred homes were destroyed in a fire at Masiphumelele at the weekend. Photo: Marecia Damons

More than 200 people are struggling to rebuild their lives after a blaze in Masiphumelele’s Wetland informal settlement at the weekend.

Spokesperson for the City’s Fire and Rescue Service Jermaine Carelse said the blaze destroyed 100 homes, affecting 235 people. He said no injuries or fatalities were reported, and the cause had not yet been determined.

Gift of the Givers has been serving one meal a day to the families, says project manager Emily Thomas, and has distributed blankets, bottled water, baby packs and toiletries.

But the City of Cape Town is unable to offer fire kits outside of “declared disasters” because of National Government budget cuts, said Mayco member for Human Settlements Malusi Booi. In a statement, Booi said the City’s Urban Settlements Development Grant capital budget had been cut by R118 million in 2020.

“The fire was already too big by the time we woke up”, said resident Lorraine Mukwananzi. “We only had time to grab our kids and run.”

Mukwananzi was also a victim of a fire that destroyed about a thousand shacks in Masiphumelele in December 2020. “We are traumatised that we had to go through this again,” she said. She started selling chicken feet to residents over the weekend to earn money for new building material.

Amanda Jacobs was carrying rusted zinc sheets to rebuild her home when GroundUp visited the site on Monday. “It has been hectic because now we have to find the right zinc to use since the municipality won’t be supplying any materials to rebuild,” she said.

“Everyone has just grabbed whatever they could find to start rebuilding,” she said.

She said most of the children’s school books had been destroyed by the fire.

Booi said in his statement that the City had explored all options but since the grant the City used to provide the fire kits had been cut, “there is currently no other way of funding the extra service”.

He said the City had spent about R106 million on fire and flood kits over the previous three financial years, compared to R169 million in the previous ten years.

Thomas appealed for donations from the public for the affected families. “They are in need of mattresses, more blankets, kitchen utensils, clothes, school uniforms for their children, and stationery,” said Thomas. She said that goods can be dropped off at Gift of the Givers offices at 4 Arbeidsweg, Athlone.