“They keep promising houses while our shacks keep burning”

A shack fire tore through the David Nkanti informal settlement near Strand early on Wednesday. By the time emergency services got the blaze under control, an estimated 200 people had been left homeless. RA’EESA PATHER spoke to residents who lost their homes and possessions in the fire. 

David VukubiDavid Vukubi, 29, gardener
This morning when I was going to taxi rank and my brother called me. He said “Come back, your place is going to burn,” so I came back and took my stuff outside, but I still lost other things. I stay with my wife and kids. There have been many times when we complain about this place – the houses are on top of each other, so when a house is burning, it affects everyone. I don’t have a plan. I can only wait for disaster management to come. If we can’t build today, maybe they will take us to the community hall to sleep there. I called my boss, but he said no work, no pay – he shouted at me. I’m very cross because when we talk to our councillor, we said we need houses. He promised, he says, “Next year, next year.” It’s six years that I’m staying here and I’m very disappointed. I would like government to look after us as we looked after them when we voted.

Thembisa FeteseThembisa Fetese, 34, unemployed
They said the electricity just burst and that’s where the flames started. I wasn’t here. I was sleeping at my sister’s place when I heard about the firefighters then I just came straight here. They said the municipality will help us with the material and some food. I will go there by my sister in the meantime. I have three kids, but they were at school when it happened. Nothing is left of my house; I will rebuild, but I don’t know with what. The material from the municipality will help me – it’s for a one-room house, which is better than nothing. I was hurt when I saw my house; I was crying, because I don’t know what to do. I don’t feel safe, because I don’t know, maybe this will happen again. They must build houses – better houses.

Owen NjenileOwen Njenile, 41, security worker
I’ve been here for almost three years. It’s bad, these conditions that we are staying in are very bad. These squatter camps are very congested, if we can get a place that has space then we can build our shacks better. I will try to build a new shack, but I don’t have money to buy new material. All the zinc here is burned down so I have to fix it again, because I don’t have any other material to rebuild my shack. I lost my TV, beds, blankets… so many things. I have a family, but my wife is not here, she’s at work. I’m worried but what must I do? I have to be strong. If I cry, my children are going to see now I’m crying. I have to be strong for my family because I’m the head of the family.

Chris MandobeChris Mandobe, 25, security worker
I’m working nightshift and with nightshift you work long hours, from 6pm until 6am. It was bad, so we’re crying here. We’re waiting for disaster management to bring the materials. There’s a lot of things that we lost here – ID books, everything, even the clothes. I arrived here at 8am, because I’m travelling with the train. When I came here it was done, so I was shocked. It was a very bad thing in my life. When you leave your house, you lock it, and there’s a lot of things that you locked up. Now, you just coming back with your work bag, and you see nothing is left. I was just crying. Now, I can’t work tonight. The procedure of work is no work, no pay. I phoned them and I said I can’t work tonight because I have this problem. But they say I must bring the proof. What proof can I bring?

Nikiwe KhakaNikiwe Khaka, 39, domestic worker
They’re taking my house apart to make a new house. I saw that house with the fire, but I couldn’t help because I was taking my stuff out. I was scared, because I couldn’t breathe and all my stuff was burning. I want to build again, because there’s no other place for me. I’m staying 11 years in this township. This is the second time I have a shack fire. The municipality must come with the zinc and pallets to help people. I’m worried, because I don’t know what I must to do to get my stuff. I have no money, and it’s expensive to buy cupboards, wardrobes, stuff for my child, and start all over again. I will sleep at my sister’s tonight, but that house is small with just one room.

– Voxes have been edited for brevity and clarity.
– All images: By Ra’eesa Pather.

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