South Africa: 190 People Left Homeless After Khayelitsha Fire

Families devastated, with newly-bought school uniforms and stationery burnt in the fire

  • 192 people were left homeless when 81 structures were destroyed in a fire in Town Two, Khayelitsha in Cape Town on Saturday morning.
  • Many of the affected residents are using what they could salvage from their charred belongings to rebuild their homes. Over a dozen people are still sleeping in a small local church.
  • Local SANCO chairperson noted that it was particularly devastating because many people had lost the school uniforms and groceries they had bought with their social grants last week.

A Khayelitsha mother says she is devastated after losing all her savings and belongings in a fire on Saturday morning. According to the City of Cape Town, 81 structures in Town Two were gutted, leaving 192 people homeless.

Khaziwe Dyantyi told GroundUp that she grabbed her three-year-old daughter after hearing neighbours shouting that shacks were alight.

“I rushed out of my shack with my kid and left all my belongings inside except my pyjamas and my gown … I have no materials to rebuild my burnt shack,” said Dyantyi tearfully as she stood in the charred remains of her shack.

When GroundUp visited the community on Sunday afternoon, many people were sorting through the burnt rubble and material. While some were rebuilding their homes, Dyantyi, who is a domestic worker in Kuilsriver, was distraught that she barely had anything to salvage. She said she lost all her belongings which included a bedroom set, fridge, clothing, washing machine, and laptop.

Dyantyi’s brothers were helping her rebuild her shack with the charred zinc sheets, burnt poles and nails so that she can have a place to sleep.

“I rely on my child’s grant for survival most of the time as my bosses only ask me to work sometimes,” she said.

Vuyiswa Makhaphela also lost her home. She lived with her two children and four grandchildren, and sold sweets and chips from her shack for a living.

Makhaphela said they were struggling to breathe as their shack was already engulfed in smoke by the time they woke up. “We ran out of the shack without removing anything. The strong wind made the fire come at high speed,” she said.

“I used my grandchildren’s grant to buy them stationery two days ago. We have no clothes to wear now. My kids have to go to school, but they have no uniforms and stationery,” she said.

“The youth rebuilding my shack with the damaged materials are hungry, but I have no food to give them as my groceries are also burnt,” she said.

Makhaphela said that the high density in the area contributed to why so many people were affected by the fire. “The fire fighters came quickly but could not enter our area because we don’t have roads and our shacks are too close to each other. This is why people could not pull-out big things like fridges, sofas and beds,” she said.

Lubabalo Msuthu, South African National Civic Organization chairperson in Town Two, said dozens of the fire victims are still being housed by a local church. Msuthu said that it was sad that most people had already bought uniforms and groceries with their social grants last week. “Now they have all burnt. We only saw food coming from the government. The fire victims need more support,” he said.

Ward Councillor Thando Pimpi said that he will write letters to school principals to be lenient on the affected children who will not have uniforms and stationery. He said there are plans by the City of Cape Town to de-densify the area. “We are planning to remove a certain number of people, place them somewhere and build roads. This will happen after the Silver Town Project beneficiaries have moved into their places,” he said.

The City’s Disaster Risk Management officials in a statement said that Gift of the Givers and SASSA are providing humanitarian assistance. “The Electricity and Water & Sanitation [departments] will attend to damaged infrastructure, while Solid Waste will remove fire debris. Home Affairs was also activated to assist residents with identity documents.”

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