Sunday, March 17, 2013

Residents ‘channel anger’ to rebuild after fire

Stellenbosch, Western Cape - Kayamandi residents were putting out the last of the flames from the fire that raged through the informal settlement outside Stellenbosch on Friday, leaving thousands homeless, others were already putting up frames to rebuild new shacks.

“The time for crying was last night. This is a tragedy, but it is not the end of the world.

“People are very frustrated, because we have been promised decent housing by the government many times. They are channelling that anger and energy into rebuilding their homes,” said Eddie Diko, who lost everything in the fire.

“You must understand, this is humiliating for us. To have television cameras here pointing at us when the community is so vulnerable is not a good feeling.

“Look at me – I am dirty, I do not have a job, nor an ID, nor a spare change of clothes. Be honest, would you want to employ me if I showed up for a job interview?” he said as his eyes welled up.

His sister, Babalwa Diko, moved over to comfort him.

With the soles of his shoes melting on the hot concrete where his shack once stood, Nelson Mayezana was one of the first residents to erect the corner poles for a new shack.

His plot was abuzz with activity, with six friends from a gospel choir helping with the rebuilding.

“For me it’s touching that people in the community whose houses weren’t burned are willing to skip work to help us out. We owe them a lot, but we would do the same if the situation was reversed,” he said.

“I think we’ll have the roof up tonight. By tomorrow maybe we’ll have walls and then we’ll just about be finished.”

Christa Liebenberg, municipal manager in Stellenbosch, admitted that an aerial surveillance of the area suggested preliminary reports that 600 shacks had burned down were gross underestimations.

She would not put a figure on the extent of the damage, but opinions gleaned from residents suggest that between 2 000 and 4 000 households lost their homes.

Virtually all those affected by the fire worked through the night, salvaging their possessions and battling the blaze.

Sitting alongside a pile of furniture, Bulelwa Masanini said she would not sleep until she knew that her possessions would be safe.

She said she had been told at a meeting that the municipality had promised to provide R1 200, 15 zinc sheets and 10 poles to each of the affected households.

There have been three confirmed deaths – two adults and a baby.

His mother, Elishia Mdoda, sat in solemn silence near where her son’s charred body still lay as police secured the scene.

She said the fire had come up too quickly for her son to wake up and escape.

Near where Mdoda had lived, residents had inadvertently hampered the firefighting efforts by packing their possessions in one of the only streets in the area.

This provided a channel for the fire to spread to a section of formal housing, where three cars and six houses burnt to the ground.

The wall of furniture, along with the density of that section of Kayamandi, made it virtually impossible for the 12 fire engines and 50 firefighters to get hoses to many burning areas.

A relief station has been set up by the municipality’s disaster management at Strong Yard community hall, where people can register to receive aid, food, and blankets. The hall will also be available to house those who need it, said Liebenberg.

The Department of Home Affairs has started reissuing IDs to those who lost their documents in the fire

“There is urgent and immediate need and I appeal to the residents, students and businesses of Stellenbosch to open their hearts and give in abundance, to help alleviate the desperate need and desolation of fellow citizens,” said Stellenbosch mayor Conrad Sidego.

* If you can help by donating non-perishable food, blankets and clothing, contact Shezayd Siegels at the Stellenbosch Disaster Management Centre on 082 050 4834 or

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