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Slow progress for victims of huge Durban fire

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Municipality accused of failing to provide vital information after Foreman Road disaster

Photo of Foreman Road area
Electricity poles have been installed at Foreman Road so that residents who have rebuilt their homes after last year’s fire can be supplied with electricity. Photo: Nomfundo Xolo
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Residents of Foreman Road have been rebuilding their homes after the fire that left over 800 people homeless in November 2017. For weeks afterwards many of the victims remained destitute and depended on food donations from local charities, while sleeping in a tent provided by the eThekwini Municipality.

GroundUp went to check on progress in the informal settlement. The aftermath of the fire is still evident. There are patches of burnt ground and mounds of rusted corrugated iron.

The municipality has been supplying building material and connected an estimated 300 homes to electricity since 10 December. But progress is slow and many people are still living in temporary shacks made of burnt material.

When we visited, some families were rebuilding shacks using new material, while others were waiting to be assigned plots and to be given building material. Each resident is given 16 pieces of corrugated iron, 12 pieces of planks and roof nails.

Without a place to build her new home, Mariam Matiwane’s wait has been filled with uncertainty. She went on holiday to the Eastern Cape after the fire. When she returned, her neighbour had rebuilt her own home on Matiwane’s plot: “I was running a tuckshop at my place. During the fire I lost two fridges and all my stock. That is how I made my living. I used the money from the tuckshop to help rebuild this shack. When I returned from holidays, my neighbour of 22 years had extended her shack on my land. There was nothing I could do as she had already finished building her house.”

Mariam Matiwane stands outside her shack. Photo: Nomfundo Xolo

Mqapheli Bonono from the social movement Abahlali baseMjondolo also lives in the area. He said that although they were happy that many people will now have their homes back, Abahlali were concerned about the procedure and the “slow pace” of the project.

He said: “The project has been delayed and at times disrupted. As the community that was directly affected by the fire, we were supposed to be the first to receive building material. But this hasn’t been the case.”

He said residents from the transit camp neighbouring the Foreman Road shacks have instead have been receiving building material, and “they already live in much better housing than us.” He claimed building material is being supplied to them because they are ANC card holders.

“The material stays on top of their roofs while there is an old woman who still lives in the tent by herself, without building material. How is that fair?” asked Bonono.

“We have the right to know about this project. A meeting to explain the project to us, especially its budget, estimated time of completion and how people will benefit, has never taken place. We are a community and the municipality is not doing us a favour but is delivering services that are rightfully ours and so we should not be side-lined,” he said.

GroundUp has attempted for six days to get comment from municipal spokesperson Tozi Mthethwa, to no avail.

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TOPICS:  Housing