Pietermaritzburg fire victims threaten to invade new flats

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Jika Joe residents fetching water from the neighbouring stream to try and quell the flames on Wednesday.
Jika Joe residents fetching water from the neighbouring stream to try and quell the flames on Wednesday.
Picture: Nokuthula Ntuli/The Witness

NEWS

JIKA JOE residents have threatened to invade the neighbouring municipal flats that are under construction if Msunduzi does not address their immediate housing need.

This came after hundreds of shacks were razed by yet another fire on Wednesday afternoon leaving many homeless.

The blaze was suspected to have been sparked by an illegal electricity connection. The owner of the shack concerned was not home and witnesses said they had to break down his door to get inside but it was already too late.

There were no deaths but three children suffered minor burns and were rushed to the nearest clinic.

There were no deaths but three children suffered minor burns and were rushed to the nearest clinic. “The fire is being exacerbated by [exploding] gas cylinders because most of the people use them for cooking and fridges because they don’t want the illegal electricity connections due to the risk of damaging their appliances and electrocution,” said Nhlanhla Mthiyane.

Most of the people who lost their homes were also victims of the March fire which burned down more than 20 shacks. The residents said they were still in the process of rebuilding their lives when yesterday’s fire erupted.

Among them was Pride Zho, who only managed to escape with her 12-month old son Asanda Abdul and his diaper bag. She could not even get to their identity documents before the smoke engulfed her shack.

'I forgot my asthma pump'

“I had to get out of there as quickly as I could because my son was already coughing from the smoke and I’m asthmatic but I forgot my pump and my phone,” she said.

Tavern owner Bonisile Thusi lost two fridges, a brand new sound system and more than 30 cases of beer. She was not home when the blaze started and by the time she received the call from her neighbours it was too late to save anything.

Some of the shack dwellers tried to assist the fire fighters by pouring buckets of water over the flames but that did nothing to quell the inferno so they eventually gave up.

Most of the residents moved the belongings that they saved from the fire onto the site of the R441,7 million community residential units development that is being constructed next to the shacks.

Most of the residents moved their belongings that they saved from the fire onto the construction site of the R441,7 million flats close by, which they threatened to invade.

They threatened to invade the flats if Msunduzi tried to lump them into a community hall or give them tents to sleep in.

Some of them claimed they had been victims of more than 10 fires since they moved to Jika Joe in the 1990s.

Most of them said they fled from different parts of the Midlands, including Mkhambathini, due to political violence at the time, while others came from neighbouring countries and settled in Jika Joe because it was closer to their places of work.

'We are tired of waiting'

“We are tired of waiting for the RDP houses that were promised to us in the 1990s and now we are being told that some of us don’t even qualify to live in these flats because we won’t be able to afford the rent,” said Nozibuko Nene.

She said they would not have resorted to illegal connections if government had given them prepaid electricity which they previously requested numerous times.

She said electricity theft had not only cost them in terms of fires but several people had died from electrocution.

“We know some of the flats are ready so they must let us move in because we qualify for government housing unless of course they want someone to die during one of these shack fires before they do something,” said resident Sindisiwe Mchunu.

Mayor Mzimkhulu Thebolla was amongst those who rushed to the scene when the news of the fire broke out.

He said all available emergency and rescue resources had been deployed to fight the blaze.

“Our thoughts are with the victims during this terrible ordeal and we are responding with all available resources. Our disaster management teams will work tirelessly to help the affected residents with humanitarian assistance,” said the mayor.

Thebolla said the electricity supply in the affected vicinity would be switched off and appealed for patience from neighbouring communities.

Capital City Housing:
Capital City Housing (previously Msunduzi Housing Association) is a non profit Social Housing Institution tackling the housing needs of low and moderate income households in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal.

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