Slow progress for victims of huge Durban fire as some remain destitute and depended on food donations

2018-01-25 14:07
Mariam Matiwane stands outside her shack. (Nomfundo Xolo, GroundUp)

Mariam Matiwane stands outside her shack. (Nomfundo Xolo, GroundUp)

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Durban - Residents of Foreman Road have been rebuilding their homes after the fire that left more than 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 reported on Thursday.

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

An uncertain wait

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 tuck shop 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 tuck shop 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."

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. (Nomfundo Xolo, GroundUp)

Mqapheli Bonono, from the social movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, also lives in the area.

He said that, although they were happy that many people would now have their homes back, Abahlali is concerned about the procedure and the "slow pace" of the project.

Bonono 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 had instead been receiving building material, and "they already live in much better housing than us".

Politics at play?

Bonono claimed that building material was being supplied to them because they were ANC members.

"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 sidelined," he said.

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

Read more on:    durban  |  fires

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