Weekend fire victims tell of material loss

Residents of Blowey rebuilding their shacks with some of the material they received from the City of Cape Town. Photo by Mzi Velapi

As the temperatures reached highs well over 30°C over the last two weeks, the sound of hammer blows against zinc was the order of the day in Blowey informal settlement in Cape Town as some of the victims of the weekend fire rebuilt their houses.

Some residents of Blowey informal settlement had no choice but to be out in the scorching heat rebuilding their shacks that were destroyed by fire on the weekend. According to the media statement by the City of Cape Town, 342 households were affected. The fire claimed one life and left over one thousand people destitute.

“We were sleeping when we heard people shouting about the fire. When we got out the smoke had already engulfed the houses near us, we were only able to save some clothes but the big furniture like couch and bed burnt into ashes,” said Zoliswa Figlan.

Figlan said that her children’s school uniforms and books got burned in the fire. “They will only go back to school next week now as they haven’t started with exams yet,” said the unemployed mother of four. “I get support from family as I’m not working,” she said.

On Wednesday, she received 25 zinc sheets from the City of Cape Town to rebuild her shack. A statement from mayoral committee member Xanthea Limberg, says the fire kits consist of “25 zinc sheets; 14 wooden poles which are fire-treated; three packets of nails; a door; door hinges; a window frame and a window.”

Figlan told Elitsha that she lost one of her dogs, Bobby who died in the fire and Guranz has disappeared since Saturday. “Guranz is a great protector, no one dared come near my house when he was around, the skollies are scared of him,” she said.

Street fire hydrants

Most of the residents that Elitsha spoke to raised concerns about the ineffective street hydrants which, had they been working, could have saved a big number of homes. “The weak hydrants are the reason we have so many houses burnt down instead of a few. The fire-fighters had to leave and go get water somewhere else… It took them about 15 minutes to get back,” said Alfred Ngesi from Silvertown, a formal housing township opposite the informal settlement.

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The Housing Assembly, an organisation that campaigns for decent housing, lamented the low water pressure piped to informal settlements and RDP houses that rendered the street hydrants ineffective.

“Municipal by-laws and water restrictions take different forms in different municipalities, but in this case it meant a fire hydrant without access to water and firefighters with a limited supply of fire extinguishers. The additional burned shacks could have been avoided or prevented had it not been under-resourced. Many shack-dwellers, backyard dwellers and those living in RDPs have through our experience come to realise the impacts of neoliberal policies,” reads the Housing Assembly statement.

Edward Bosch, spokesman for Fire and Rescue, confirmed that there are street fire hydrants in Silvertown and they had to get Waterworks to increase the pressure as it was low. “The fire service had difficulty locating the street hydrants. When eventually located, the water pressure at the hydrants was low. Waterworks were requested to increase the pressure, which they did. This, however, did not hamper fire-fighting efforts as seven water tankers in addition to the nine fire engines were on-scene. The strong winds were primarily the reason for the rapid spread,” he said.

Fight over space

Ward committee member Zolani Bawana told Elitsha that one of the challenges relief services are facing are people who are taking advantage of the devastation to claim more than their share. “You find out some people lay claim to two or three shacks and we are sorting that out,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mcoseleli Mahlasela and Siphiwo Mbhalo complain that their common neighbours have extended their shacks and took some of their space. “Now we can’t build our shacks and the people who did this to us are threatening us with violence,” said Mbhalo.

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Figlan said that she is scared because she doesn’t know when another fire may break out again



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