Dozens of learners without uniforms, stationery after devastating fire

Residents blame municipality for failing to move them to “promised land”

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Photo of man standing in the middle of burnt shacks
A resident of Solly’s Town, Nomzamo in Strand wades through what remains of dozens of shacks destroyed by a fire on Tuesday. Photo: Velani Ludidi

As the school year kicks off for tens of thousands of learners on Wednesday, a group of about 50 children from Solly’s Town, Nomzamo in Strand will likely have to remain at home.

Most of their belongings, including school uniforms and stationery, were destroyed by a blaze that gutted dozens of shacks, leaving close to 400 people homeless on Tuesday. Emergency services took more than two hours to contain the fire. One woman had minor injuries.

Solly’s Town is on municipal land and is electrified but the settlement is riddled with illegal electrical connections.

“This is all I have left and my children do not have shoes and uniforms anymore,” said Mbulelo Bhanya while holding his six-year-old daughter in his arms. “I have a tavern here and I lost all my stock. I survived by selling alcohol and now that is all gone. We should have long been moved from here.”

Residents said that most people were at work when the fire started, while others are yet to return from their summer holidays.

This is the second devastating fire at the settlement in two years. Residents say they were promised to be moved elsewhere but nothing has materialised. Instead, the land which they were promised has been fenced off.

GroundUp arrived while firefighters were still battling the blaze. Residents brought them cold water between their shifts at the fire line.

Fikile Mkhothongo has two children. He said he only managed to salvage a small bag with a few items of clothes. He said if they had been moved earlier, they would not be in the situation. “When we asked about that land, the councillor said they are still waiting. We are not supposed to be here,” he said.

Councillor Simthembile Mfecane said he was mostly worried about the children. “It will be difficult for most families here to recover from this and be able to take their children to school. We have been talking about relocation of the people here. Since 2016 the municipality has had no plan on how the people will be or should be relocated,” he said.

The City’s Disaster Risk Management on Wednesday said it was still busy assessing the area to determine the extent of the damage. Fire and Rescue spokesperson Jermaine Carelse said: “Six fire engines, three water tankers and a rescue vehicle with 38 staff were on the scene. A woman came to report an injury sustained to her knee. She was treated by our medical personnel.”

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TOPICS:  Housing

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