Fire victims call to declare area a disaster

Victims of last month’s fire in Hangberg have requested that Cape Town mayor Dan Plato declare the affected site a local disaster area.

This was one of the key points to emerge during a meeting between the fire victims and City officials at the Hangberg civic centre on Tuesday night, November 13.

Currently some 30 fire victims, including children, are being housed at the Hangberg civic centre after their homes were razed in the early hours of Friday October 19. Daniel Williams, 46, and 15-year-old Veron Fredericks lost their lives in the fire (“Snuffed out by flames,” Sentinel, October 26).

The fire victims have demanded answers from the City in respect of them moving back to the affected area in the Hangberg Improvement Development Area (HiDA).

The City officials at Tuesday’s meeting were the mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and sanitation, Xanthea Limberg, ward councillor Roberto Quintas and Waleed Adams, the head of engineering services for informal settlements and backyarders.

There appeared to be some confusion over as to whether the fire victims could move back to the affected site, primarily stemming from concerns over the stability of the ground which occurs on a slope.

Residents told the officials that the terrain was incredibly sandy, to the point that entire toilet blocks were sinking into the ground.

Audience members also expressed concern that victims of the huge fires in Khayelitsha and Philippi last month were receiving preferential treatment from the City in respect of donations.

Ms Limberg said it was true that victims in Philippi and Khayelitsha had received donations, “but there was nothing donated like a formal house” as some had suggested.

Some audience members complained that they had not received the full fire starter kits, comprising sheet metal, a door, poles and other materials, from the City. Ms Limberg said provided they could provide evidence of this, she would take the matter up with the City.

One fire victim said in the wake of last year’s March 11 fire in Imizamo Yethu, those fire victims had received starter kits bigger than the 3m x 3m kits allocated to the Hangberg victims. To this, Ms Limberg responded: “People sometimes add on (their own extensions) to the starter kits.”

She said she had already asked the relevant City stakeholders for guidance on the possibility of declaring Hangberg a local disaster area, but there were certain criteria that had to be met in terms of the Disaster Act.

In the next few days, Ms Limberg said, two area-based officials from the informal settlements department would arrive in Hangberg to point out suitable areas where those affected by the fire could be relocated to.

Youth leader Roscoe Jacobs, who has been assisting the victims since the fire, wished to know when the mayor would respond to the request for the site to be declared a local disaster area.

“We also need engineers to come out to assess all the options that could be available to the fire victims, not only those presented by the City.

“We need to reblock this area so when a fire happens again, the fire officials can move in without any problems,” he said.

Ms Limberg said for the project to be a success, co-operation was needed from the community. “To stabilise the embankment will require the relocation of people even beyond the fire area.”