20 May 2019

South Africa: 'Everything That I Worked Hard for Is Burnt to Ashes'

Photo: Ella Ndongeni/GroundUp
The aftermath of the fire in Masiphumelele.

Over 200 people have been left homeless by a fire in S-section informal settlement in Masiphumelele.

Community leader Mveliso Nkunkuma said the fire started at about 1am on Sunday morning after a resident left a candle burning. He said the resident was taken to hospital and treated for burn wounds.

"This was not the first time his shack caught on fire because he drinks, but normally the community would see it before it spreads," said Nkunkuma.

The community hall was used for people to sleep in on a stormy Sunday night. Ironically, less than 24 hours after the fire it rained so heavily in Cape Town, it would have been impossible for any fire to spread.

Nkunkuma said building kits would be available on Monday.

When GroundUp arrived people were sorting through their building materials looking for anything they could reuse. Others had started clearing their sites making way to start building. Some were relatively lucky and were putting their belongings back in their homes.

Most people had slept outside in the early hours of Sunday morning after the fire, while others found shelter with friends and relatives. Those who had managed to save their belongings had them packed neatly at the nearby church.

Senzele Mxhentsi is a security guard. He was at work when the fire started. He received a call from his neighbours at about 2am on Sunday.

"I sat at work the whole night while my house was burning. Everything that I have worked hard for has burnt to ashes," he said. "All I have is my work uniform. Everything else is gone. I have to start from scratch. I don't know where to start or where I am going to sleep today."

Monwabisi Stywayi said the fire started about ten meters from his shack. "We managed to save some things but most were stolen after we saved them. I have been living here for 18 years and this is the fourth fire in that time. I don't know what we are going to do because my wife and I don't have a permanent job," he said. "All that I had took years to get. I feel defeated and confused. This is just too much."

The City of Cape Town's Safety and Security WhatsApp group confirmed that 119 shacks were destroyed, affecting 211 people.

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