Shacks rebuilt after Imizamo Yethu fire, torn down on Human Rights Day

2017-03-21 16:43
City of Cape Town workers demolish shacks in Hout Bay. (Nick Pawson, News24)

City of Cape Town workers demolish shacks in Hout Bay. (Nick Pawson, News24)

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Cape Town - Shackdwellers who started rebuilding the homes they lost in last week's Imizamo Yethu fire watched as their homes were demolished again on Human Rights Day.

The City of Cape Town and the Red Ants on Tuesday pulled down structures erected on the fire site after an agreement was reached with community leaders to allow the area to be cleared.

Eric Maqam, a community leader, said residents were told that the area was being cleared because the city wanted to make sure "there is enough space".

He said those people whose homes had burnt down were trying to find other places to spend their nights. 

"Honestly... they are living in tents. Some of them are staying with their friends, some of them are staying with their relatives. You know, Ubuntu, as African people we look after each other," he said.  

"This is a horror for us. We didn't think after... we fought for freedom we still have to stay like this."

He said his mother-in-law was one of those affected by the fire, and he is now shouldering the responsibility of looking after his family and rebuilding their homes.

Community leader

Mawonga Ncube had started rebuilding his shack but stopped on Monday after being approached by a community leader.

"If we get our materials on Wednesday, I can hopefully sleep under my own roof again by night time," the gardener said.

"I have been sleeping at a friend's house, but I want to come back home, even if I have nothing left to put inside it."

Except for a few items of clothing, Ncube escaped the massive fire with nothing else.

"I feared for my life. You don't think of anything else when your survival instinct kicks in."

Saturday's blaze was like deja vu for Velaphi Jali, 58.

Nineteen years ago, he also had to start from scratch when he lost all his possessions in a shack fire.

His niece, Letitia, tried to save their cupboards, but at the last minute left them behind as the flames burned dangerously close to their home.

"We have nothing. Absolutely nothing. We only have each other," she said.

Wait another day

The Jalis watched from the sidelines as crowbars were used to rip apart the rebuilt structures on Tuesday.

"We respect that the council wants to help us and are giving us materials to start over. If this is what they need to do, we can wait another day," Velaphi said.

He said he will never forget last week's inferno.

"That umlilo [fire]... wow. It was big. I was shocked," he recalled.

Residents collected their meagre belongings as the red uniformed workers took apart the shacks, some which were only half built.

Children played in the dirt roads while some adults drank beers while watching the operation from the sidelines.

The City of Cape Town last week said it needed to demolish homes that were rebuilt "in the interest of protecting the affected residents and ensuring fairness".

Deputy mayor Ian Neilson said construction that took place before plots of land were marked would jeopardise the rebuilding process of the area for affected residents.

"Individuals could take up much larger space than is fair and new residents from outside the settlement could take up space meant for others," he said at the time. 

The city was expecting to spend R100 million for the redesign of Imizamo Yethu to install firebreaks, pedestrian walkways, and other access to basic and emergency services, which it said it had not been able to do previously due to the neighbourhood's density. 

Four people were killed in the blaze and thousands had been left homeless.

Read more on:    city of cape town  |  cape town  |  fires

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