15 July 2010

South Africa: Fire Tragedy Now a Political Battle

A memorial service meant to honour the memories of nine people who burnt to death in a fire last week turned into a political battlefield.

The fire was caused by a candle that fell over and gutted a four-roomed shack in the TR Section of Lingelethu-West last Wednesday. Trapped inside were sisters Marche, 30, and Nomampondo Mdla, 26; Marche's boyfriend David Khoboka, 33; Nomampondo's boyfriend Bulelani Nqundwana, 38; and the sisters' five children. The children were Nomampondo's daughter Asimahle, 8, and Marche's sons Aviwe, 5, Luxolo, 4, and six-month-old Spumzo, as well as her daughter Andisiwe, aged 3.

Lingelethu-West resident Nomawethu Ndzulwana said the tragedy had brought the community closer together.

She said the incident highlighted the need for proper services in the area. "It's because there was no electricity that they used the candle. Something like this could have been prevented," she said.

Marche and Nomampondo's brother, 22-year-old Lufefe Mdla, said last week he believed the fire had been caused by candles his sisters were using to light their home after their prepaid electricity meter "exploded" about a month ago. Police and fire services later confirmed that a candle had caused the blaze.

Khayelitsha Development Forum member Michael Benu on Wednesday echoed Ndzulwana's sentiments: "There must be proper water, sanitation, housing and electricity," said Benu.

Mayor Dan Plato described the incident as tragic. He said the three spheres of government should work together to come up with a plan to eradicate shacks.

DA MP Masizole Mnqasela agreed there was an urgent need for proper housing.

Various ANC speakers derided Plato and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille in anti-DA tirades.

ANC provincial task team leader and Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana said living standards had to be raised: "We will not win our battle if we just close our eyes and fold our arms. We all have a job to do to make sure our revolution succeeds."

ANC Youth League member Loyiso Nkohla said the incident would not have happened had the DA-led municipality done its job: "If there was a clear plan for that area, people wouldn't be burning to death because of a candle."

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