Imizamo Yethu fire victims wait to be reunited with pets

2017-04-08 11:07

Nicholas Ashby, GroundUp

Cape Town – Dozens of people are waiting to be reunited with the pets they were separated from during the deadly fire that devastated the Imizamo Yethu informal settlement in March.

Officially, the SPCA reported that 16 animals died in the blaze. But employees and volunteers for the Domestic Animal Rescue Group (DARG), who rescued 106 animals during and immediately after the fire, say they saw dozens of dead cats and dogs in the cinders.

Two people were killed in the fire on March 11 and 12. Residents and the city are still debating how the settlement, near Hout Bay, will be rebuilt.

Uzusiphe Nkuzo is one of many residents of Imizamo Yethu waiting to be reunited with his dog. A psychology student, he is now living in one of the marquee tents the city has temporarily set up for those displaced by the fire.

His pit bull, Boy, more used to roaming the streets and sleeping alongside Nkuzo, lies looking gloomy in his kennel at DARG. Boy has been there for three weeks and Nkuzo tries to visit him as often as he can.


Uzusiphe Nkuzo with his Pit Bull (Nicholas Ashby, GroundUp)

Another dog lover is Benjamin Njaba, an Imizamo Yethu fruit-seller. His family has been split up since the disaster. With the sound of neighbours hammering together new homes in Donse Yahke, the area of Imizamo Yethu where Njaba lives, he recalls how the blaze broke out at 23:30 on March 11.

He thought his place would be safe and that the fire would be put out quickly. Neighbours brought their possessions to his home for safekeeping. When fire trucks eventually made it up to his district, he says they had no water.

With the fire approaching, he ran down the slope with his family and their two dogs. His home and everything in it was destroyed.

Njaba took his dogs to DARG for safekeeping. The SPCA took them in to relieve the overcrowding at DARG. Njaba says he was surprised to discover that his dogs had been sterilised.

Fire has twice before destroyed Njaba’s home, a shack he built among rocks and towering blue-gum trees on the mountain slopes of Hout Bay. He says it is difficult to go and queue for bread and other relief services, because while people are away, building materials disappear.

Water supply has not been restored to the section of Imizamo Yethu where Njaba lives. DARG regularly delivers donated bottled water.

Badly burnt

DARG volunteers say some of the dogs they rescued were badly burnt. The organisation has had to build more spaces for the many extra animals it is now caring for.

The animal shelter has expressed disappointment that the city seems to have ignored this dimension of the catastrophe. No help has been forthcoming, despite requests for co-operation.

DARG has been unable to get answers from the city about how its redesign of dwellings in Imizamo Yethu will take into account the domestic animals many people keep.

The number of animals living on the streets of the settlement has been problem.

DARG was not set up as a disaster management shelter for animals, says Ryno Engelbrecht, a facilitator at the organisation.

“Strictly speaking, DARG should only be for unwanted animals. This shelter should not be dealing with the municipality’s problems; with dogs that run in the streets, that are not spayed or neutered, and with sick animals running all over the place.”

But being close to Imizamo Yethu and Hangberg has meant that DARG is burdened with the role of general animal welfare provider.

Engelbrecht says the city is in violation of its own by-laws. It has abrogated its responsibility to animal welfare in Imizamo Yethu and Hangberg, presuming DARG will step into the gap, and taking advantage of an organisation which relies on dedicated volunteers and limited resources.


Sinethemba Nkolomzi of DARG rescues a dog after the fire in Imizamo Yethu. (Supplied)

Cape Town’s safety and security mayoral committee member, JP Smith, says the SPCA was activated to help after the fire.

The SPCA says they decided to make DARG the collection and drop-off point for animals. One team was put in charge of collecting the animals, the other was made responsible for caring for those received into the SPCA’s care.

During the fire and its aftermath, DARG built dozens of makeshift confinement spaces. Other welfare organisations, including the SPCA, took some animals. The SPCA says it took in 34 dogs. Only some have been claimed.

However, DARG says all animals sent to other welfare agencies have been brought back to the shelter. Typically, shelters put down animals after a period of time if no home is found or the animal not claimed. Because DARG’s founding principle is to operate as a no-kill shelter, all homeless and sick animals brought to it have to be looked after.

The city has not responded to GroundUp’s questions on these issues.

Read more on:    cape town  |  fires  |  animals

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