Alex fire aftermath: ‘Now our people aren’t just landless but also homeless’

Alexandra.
Alexandra.

As Alexandra residents tried to salvage what they could after a devastating fire left 1000 people homeless and a mother and a one-year-old child dead, the authorities stepped in to help.

But the solutions are temporary and, said a community leader, the community was frustrated.

The deadly fire came on the back of a two-week protest in Alexandra, north of Johannesburg, over the residents’ demand for land.

“Our people now are not just landless but they are also homeless … The government has promised us a tent as a temporary solution to this crisis,” said community leader, Thabang Lediga.

Emergency services indicated that the cause of the fire was a two-plate electric stove that was left unattended in a home on Saturday evening. The fire spread to more than 120 shacks.

In an interview with City Press, Marlboro ward 108 councillor Deborah Francisco indicated that people were living in an abandoned factory on Third Avenue where the fire broke out.

Francisco said: “This is not the first time there has been a fire here, but now the building is not in a good condition and we have to find an alternative place for them to stay.”

Lediga said the incident in Marlboro created an increased urgency for the “decongesting” of Alexandra. Community members were expected to meet tomorrow afternoon to discuss a way forward.

Chairperson of the Marlboro executive committee, Rodgers Rikhotso, said the government had provided the residents with temporary shelter (tents) and brought blankets and food items.

“Today we were informed that the tents will be erected. No clear plan on where to from here has yet been given. Alexandra is not a proper place to stay and we need the government to formalise Marlboro and give us houses, even if they are homes in the form of rent to buy or RDPs [reconstruction and development programme housing].”

Rikhotso said the committee had been talking to the ward councillors and had not received clear communication directly from the government.

Mogomotsi Mogodiri, spokesperson for Gauteng Human Settlements MEC Paul Mashatile, said the provincial disaster management team had been engaging with the City of Johannesburg and the departments of home affairs, education and social development to remedy the situation.

“Some of the residents who have been affected are school children, so we are in talks with the department of education to assist in providing resources such as uniform and books for the children so that when schools reopen they are not disadvantaged.”

Mogodiri added that a site identified on the border of Marlboro and Alex, in Fourth Avenue, would be used as a temporary shelter for the residents affected by the fire.

“We will also provide blankets and food for the residents who have been affected. This is a temporary plan. We also need to verify whether those who were affected are South African citizens so we can start the process of applying for RDP houses.”

Mashatile has unveiled a plan to build mega human settlements in the form of RDP houses, rental and government housing.

Mogodiri says the roll-out of these would take place “within this current financial plan”.

In the meantime Mogodiri said the head of department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Nhlakanipho Nkontwana, had addressed the residents of Marlboro along with the ward councillor.

Mogodiri said the department would continue to communicate with the residents through the joint operations committee.

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June 2020

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