The spirit of giving

2016-12-20 13:56
Residents of a section of the Vygieskraal informal settlement are rebuilding their lives after 64 informal dwellings were razed in a fire last Monday night.

Residents of a section of the Vygieskraal informal settlement are rebuilding their lives after 64 informal dwellings were razed in a fire last Monday night. (Earl Haupt)

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A fire has wreaked havoc in the Vygies­kraal informal settlement last week.

According to an assessment by the City’s Disaster Risk Management, the fire gutted 64 informal dwellings last Monday, leaving 251 people affected.

Two structures were also razed in Ebrahim Mujadin Avenue in Rylands.

“Mustadafin Foundation is providing humanitarian relief. No emergency sheltering has been activated. City Human Settlements are providing fire starter kits to rebuild. The solid waste department will remove fire debris,” says fire and rescue services spokesperson Liezl Moodie.

A community worker in the area, Mischka Chachu, says everything happened in an instant.

“I got a phone call from my children on Monday after 21:00 . My battery was flat and I woke up, so they just started to scream umlilo, umlilo (which means fire in isiXhosa). As I woke up and I saw the flames, I realised it was bad. They only killed the fire completely at 02:30 on Tuesday. It was not even 10 minutes and everything was destroyed on that side. People got out of their beds without clothes – with only pyjamas and nothing to salvage,” she says. 

It is alleged that the fire was caused by a candle which was knocked over, but a witness who lives in the area says although the candle started the fire, it was due to illicit drug use which brought about the catastrophe.

“The problem over here is that people smoke drugs. When they start to smoke their unga, they light it with the candle. When they finished smoking the unga and they’re all drugged up, that candle is still burning,” says the witness.

Meanwhile, Pat Mqulo runs a crèche for the children in the Vygieskraal informal settlement. Both the crèche and Mqulo’s dwelling burned to the ground.

“The children are suffering because the mammas need to go to work and they did not go to work. They can’t make it and they can’t get paid because they did not go to work and have to stay here to look after the children,” she says.

Chachu lauded the Mustadafin Foundation’s contribution together with Sanzaf. The two organisations have been supplying the destitute with food, clothes, blankets, baby parcels and toiletries for women so that they can get through the day. 

She says despite this, residents were still sleeping without a roof over their heads in the days that followed.
“It is going to take some time now to get it right. They are sleeping there otherwise their material is going to be stolen.

“(But) nobody died, and nobody was injured, because we worked very fast to get everyone out. However, nothing was salvaged – no documents, no clothes, because it was too quick.”

Nokwanda Nsutwana, her daughter and her three grandchildren are left sweeping up the pieces and counting the costs.

“This is not the first time. In 2011 we had a big fire and after 2011 where there were so many fires. 

“[The building material] wasn’t enough for us, because they gave each of us 25 sheets, but we need at least 30 each, because we have to still use the burnt sheets, because there are not enough sheets to complete the dwelling.

“They supplied us with food and gave us breakfast and supper. We need more sheets, because the burnt ones are shapeless. 

“What is important to us is that we can get better material to build. We need clothes, blankets, food or whatever because we have nothing now nor do we have anything to cook and we are struggling so much.” 
The councillor for the area, Magadien Davids, says to prevent further fires, residents need to take part in a public participation process with the City. 

A meeting is tabled for 17 and 19 January at Vygieskraal Stadium on the way forward. 
Davids also says there are moves afoot to transfer all the shacks to a safer site in Heideveld where everybody will be accommodated. 

He adds that follow-ups are conducted every month with residents, but laments that most of them are not forthcoming and choose to run away from the various issues – one of them being drug and alcohol abuse. 

“They refuse to interact and as a councillor, it’s my biggest problem. Only a few attend the meetings, but the people who need to attend, don’t. I can take the horse to the water, but I can’t make him drink. This is the situation I am currently in,” laments Davids. 

He adds that there are programmes from the City’s side and that while the new shacks are being reconstructed, they will be trying to make them fireproof.

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