'We lost everything' – heartbroken Vrygrond fire victims sleep on soccer field

2018-10-26 17:21
Residents refuse to allow the Disaster Risk Management Centre to remove the debris from the site. (Christina Pitt, News24)

Residents refuse to allow the Disaster Risk Management Centre to remove the debris from the site. (Christina Pitt, News24)

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After losing everything, Vrygrond residents woke up early on Friday morning to start rebuilding their shacks among the rubble where their homes once stood.

The night before, they watched helplessly as an estimated 120 shacks were destroyed. Once the flames were extinguished, many slept on the grounds of a nearby soccer field.

"We can't say how it started. All we saw was smoke and fire – it was spreading so fast we couldn't see what was actually happening. We just saw the shacks all burning," Cynthia Gertse said.

Gertse, who has been a resident in Vrygrond for four years, said that she shared her shack with four other people, including two children.

"We lost everything; it's heartbreaking. I'm a working woman and to lose everything in a split second – it's not right."

The fire department was unable to gain access to the fire due to the lack of infrastructure in the area.

Service delivery protests

Frustrated resident Boniswa Mahlasela said that the community was still in shock.

"People are still crying. They don't want the Caterpillar to remove the [debris]. I don't want to sleep outside again, because I was sleeping on the ground," Mahlasela said.

"We are so hungry, we never ate – we don't have money."

Residents rebuild their homes after a fire left th

Residents rebuild their homes after a fire left them with nothing. (Christina Pitt, News24)

Housing is a contentious issue in Vrygrond. Throughout the year, residents have protested for better service delivery and housing on numerous occasions.

"We have been calling for houses for 20 years. We are staying in these [shacks] and they keep on burning, we rebuild, they keep burning over and over again," Mahlasela said.

"We are sick of doing the same thing over and over again."

However, MEC for human settlements Bonginkosi Madikizela said that he could not promise residents houses.

'It's not going to happen'

"We must not lie to our people, we can only do so much with the available resources we have. In areas like this, we must find a way to resettle people in a way that will avoid occurrences in the future," he told journalists in Vrygrond.

"We can never lie to people and raise expectations that everyone will get a house, because that's not going to happen. What we need to do is provide infrastructure in the area – make sure people have water, electricity, etc."

Residents refuse to allow the Disaster Risk Manage

Residents refuse to allow the Disaster Risk Management Centre to remove the debris from the site. (Christina Pitt, News24)

Madikizela said that he intended on discussing a resettlement plan with community leaders.

Lucinda Evans, director of Philisa Abafazi Bethu, said that she had been on the scene since the fire started and that she was disappointed with the way the disaster was handled by the authorities.

"The biggest disappointment for us as leaders of this vast community is the fact that I expected a better plan to be in place," she said.

"Just to have something to eat. It is nearly midday, the people have barely eaten. They've been out in the cold all night, in the elements – it's women, children, elderly people."

Shoprite, Pick n Pay step in

Madikizela said that it was the responsibility of the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) to provide meals.

Fortunately, Shoprite and Pick n Pay stepped in and the companies' employees were seen handing out sandwiches, water and fruit to children.

Both retailers also volunteered to help victims of a recent fire in Khayelitsha.

Suzanne Ackerman-Berman, director of transformation for Pick n Pay, appealed to customers and communities to support in any way they can.

"It is important we rally together to support families and communities in need. We feel deeply upset by the pain that these communities are going through," she said.

"Our nearby stores were immediately mobilised and continue to assist by providing cooked meals, water, energy drinks and grocery items to those affected and to the on-site disaster management teams."

Pick n Pay employees handed out fruit, bread and w

Pick n Pay employees handed out fruit, bread and water to hungry residents. (Christina Pitt, News24)

Read more on:    pick n pay  |  bonginkosi madikizela  |  town  |  cape  |  fires

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