NEWS | DURBAN 

Shack blaze leaves over 900 people homeless in Durban

A two-year-old and an adult died in the fire

Photo of burnt shacks
Over 900 people in Foreman Road informal settlement in Clare Estate, Durban, were left homeless after a fire on Sunday. Photo: Khumbulani Khumalo
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Over 900 people in an informal settlement in Clare Estate, Durban, were left homeless after a fire on Sunday. According to Thapelo Mohapi of Abahlali Basemjondolo, a two-year-old died in the blaze in the shack where the fire is believed to have started. The parents were admitted to King Dinuzulu Hospital and treated for serious burns, but the father later died. The names of the dead have not been officially released.

Mqapheli Bonono, provincial chairperson of shack dwellers movement Abahlali baseMjondolo and a resident of Foreman Road, said, “Frustrated residents began stabbing the firefighters’ hosepipe, and [then] began assaulting them when the water was out due to the damage.

“We don’t know what their reasoning was and we condemn this behaviour because we do not conduct ourselves in that manner. The firefighters then left, and later returned with the police and managed to extinguish the fire with police on guard. Unfortunately, it was too late for many other residents as the fire quickly spread while we had no firefighters.”

On Monday morning, residents of Foreman Road informal settlement picked through the ash and rubble, the ground still hot from the fire, and started to rebuild their homes.

Residents say that after an illegal electricity connection stopped working, people resorted to candles. It is believed a candle left unattended was the cause of the fire that left 933 people homeless. The fire started in the early hours on Sunday and spread quickly. The exact cause of the fire has not been officially established.

Bonono said, “The main cause of this fire is the electricity crisis. We are not given legal electricity and a life without electricity is simply hard, so often shack dwellers are left but with no choice to connect illegally.”

He said that he had tried to urge people not to rebuild on the site. He said vacant land situated opposite the informal settlement should now be used to help those affected by the fire. “We were told by the municipality that they could not make connections in the settlement because there were no passages or proper walkways. Now, people’s homes are all gone, and there is free land. We need to occupy that land as it is big enough to have passages to allow for electricity connections.”

A few organisations have come to the aid of the residents, bringing food and blankets. A tent was put up late Sunday night for shelter where children could be kept safely while homeowners recovered what they could.

Clutching her handbag, Thokozile Tshibilika, resident in the area for more than 20 years, said, “This bag is all I could grab. Everything that’s in here is all I have, nothing else.”

In her handbag was a notebook, toilet paper and identity documents for her and seven of her children.

“My husband and I went to help put out the fire which had been far from our section at that time. We later realised … the fire was uncontrollable and had changed direction. All we could save were the children.”

“My oldest son lives in his own shack where he studies better. By the time we got to his shack, everything had been destroyed, including his ID. He is currently writing his matric exams and he cannot do that without his ID,” said a distraught Tshibilika.

“We come here to live like this to sacrifice for a better life that our children can have through education. Good schools are nearby and we at least have hope that our children become better than us. Now, I have no clue where to begin. All the children lost their uniforms and have to attend school with clothes borrowed from friends,” she said.

People start to rebuild after fire engulfed the Foreman Road informal settlement. Photo: Khumbulani Khumalo

The ward councillor, Hassan Haniff, said eThekwini Disaster Manager Unit and other organisations were helping affected residents. “A few organisations are currently giving out clothes and food … I have been in constant contact with relevant departments, requesting emergency aid. Disaster management has taken a list of people affected who will be contacted and provided relief as soon as material to help them rebuild their lives is available. I have asked for the matter to be sped up and I am now waiting for the water department to provide the community with a tanker for people to receive water.”

Dumisani Mzobe from the Red Cross Society said they had given out at least 80 blankets and brought more blankets to help residents keep warm in the tent at night.

Hlengiwe Sosibo, who has three children aged between 7 and 15 years, had half of her home swept away by the water used to extinguish the fire. “I have nowhere else to go. If I do not repair this house, where will my children sleep? I have two sleeping mattresses from a friend, and donated iron [corrugated sheets] to at least have a safe shelter for the night.

“We haven’t a clue what we’ll eat if we’ll eat … Will we ever be taken seriously as shack dwellers? At the end of it all, you just have to pick up the pieces of what is lost and start all over again without the help from government, because they do not recognise us unless it’s time for elections,” said Sosibo.

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