Yet another fire ripped through Imizamo Yethu over the weekend, destroying at least 61 shacks and leaving several people displaced.
Neo Ngumesha had no time to save any of their belongings, having to grab her three children and run to safety as the fire raged during the early morning of Sunday August 15.
Looking at the destruction, she said: “We just have to look at rebuilding what we created. I am currently living alone as their father is away working and we are not expecting him back any time soon.”
She explained that smoke had filled her entire shack and upon inspecting the back of it, she had found that the flames had already started lashing her home.
“My baby woke up and said her eyes are burning. I then saw the smoke and in no time, everything was burning and I just wanted to get my children to safety,” Ms Ngumesha said.
Cedric Dube sat with tears in his eyes, knowing all too well that his belongings were now all gone.
“I had everything in my room. I panicked and I did not grab anything, but rather made sure my family was safe at that time,” he said.
He called on the City of Cape Town to implement safety measures in IY to prevent future fires and the widespread destruction they cause..
“We know fires are a problem up here and each time we have to be faced with the same thing. Just one spark can lead to a whole area being damaged, so many people and families are affected by this,” Mr Dube said.
“With the rains coming up, I will have to make a plan very quick, because I am worried that I have to sleep outside with my family.”
The last fire in the area claimed the life of a pregnant mother, saw fire trucks being stolen from and firefighters harassed by locals (“Woman dies in IY blaze as firefighters face ’harassment’, theft”, Sentinel News, March 12, 2021).
Community leader, Kenny Tokwe, said the scenes in IY were heartbreaking and called on people to support those in need.
“It’s really sad out in IY and we need all the help we can get to help our people,” he said.
He added that the latest fire would be hard to recover from, as funding through National Government had dried up and no building materials or starter kits would be provided.
“Fire victims get assistance from Sassa, Gift of the Givers, Thula Thula and other local NGOs, but will receive nothing to rebuild their homes,“ he said.
They will also be looking to revive the steering committee to work on the development project launched by the City of Cape Town.
The City’s Imizamo Yethu redevelopment project has been under way for some time and once completed could help to mitigate the impact of fires to the area due to enhanced access for emergency services.
On Monday August 16, City officials visited some of the families who were affected by the fire.
Sassa and Gift of the Givers provided blankets, mattresses and meals to the those who had been affected and had been verified as beneficiaries.
“Every instance of fire is assessed and a specific approach is developed as all instances will have unique circumstances. The City enables and facilitates soft relief, such as donations, site clearing, verification and assessments for assistance,” said Malusi Booi, mayco member for human settlements.
He explained that until recently, the City almost immediately and automatically provided relief kits to residents in informal settlements and some backyarders affected by fires, outside of a declared national disaster.
“The City until recently was the only metro in South Africa to provide enhanced fire kits to fire-affected residents as an additional service, outside of formal declared disasters. ”
However, he said, “this was subject to funding and in particular grant funding from the National Government. Changes to the funding have impacted on operations.
“The National Government has stopped the utilisation of this HSDG grant for responding with fire kits across the country and this is impacting on all City operations,” he said.
After a devastating fire in 2017, the City planned to introduce a so-called “super-block” configuration with proper road access and designated areas where fire hydrants would be installed, among other services.
“Unfortunately, some of the community leaders and groupings in the larger community did not agree to this approach and opposed us in court,” said Mr Booi.
“These planned roads would have been completed by now if we were allowed to proceed with the upgrading plans and innovative super blocking initiative. This would have helped to prevent exactly these conditions when fires break out.”
Currently, IY only has one access road and timeous access is very challenging for the City’s emergency and basic services due to congestion on the road, Mr Booi said.