South Africa

Letter to the Editor: response by the City of Cape Town to Jared Sacks

By Daily Maverick Staff Reporter 5 February 2013

There’s been some lively debate on these pages between Daily Maverick reporter JARED SACKS and the City of Cape Town. That said, Daily Maverick considers the matter closed and all arguments exhausted – we run the latest letter from the City of Cape Town for the record, but trust that at this stage, readers will make up their own minds. We publish the letter from their letter here in its entirety.

The City of Cape Town welcomes robust debate, it holds government accountable and ensures that citizens see their priorities implemented, but we cannot allow a situation where information is manipulated to suit a particular agenda.

The summary of call logs for Tuesday 1 January 2013 provided by the professional fire fighters that work for the City of Cape Town for the fires that happened in BM Section, Khayelitsha and Camps Bay, requested by Mr Sacks appears below. The information has also been put on a CD for Mr Sacks to listen to if he would like to. Mr Sacks misused the information provided by the City to advance his incorrect thesis that the City responds differently to residents depending on where they live:






















Please note that with regards to the Camps Bay incident helicopters were used, but not by the City of Cape Town. Table Mountain National Parks requested and dispatched them.
















As is clear from the summary above, the initial call regarding the BM Section fire came in at 04:45 and vehicles were dispatched two minutes later.

These summary logs speak to the facts around the City’s management of the tragic fire in BM Section. They also support the City’s perplexity at Mr Sacks’ consistent attempts to disregard and find fault with our efforts to provide as much relief as possible to all those residents affected by a fire, no matter where they live in our city.

Soon after the fire, when the OR Tambo Hall was made available to affected families, the City provided blankets, baby food, mattresses and meals to all those in the hall, and we facilitated the tremendous outpouring of goodwill from Capetonians to assist those affected.

As admitted by Mr Sacks, he was not present at the many meetings which the Executive Mayor, myself and the Premier of the Western Cape held with the community.

Senior officials and the Mayor have been communicating with the crisis committee and other stakeholders on an on-going basis to try and find short-term relief for affected families as well as longer term improvements to the broader area. During community meetings, individuals have been given the opportunity to come forward, address all stakeholders, and give their input. Nothing has been dictated to the community; rather input has been welcomed and used to improve the City’s plans.

The City is doing everything we can to expedite very complex processes, which it seems Mr Sacks is choosing to ignore. 

A meeting was also held between the Mayor and Western Cape MEC for Local Government, Anton Bredell, to help fast track the necessary planning processes for the Temporary Relocation Area (TRA) at OR Tambo Hall. The relevant statutory processes are in the process of being completed – an aggressive acceleration of the normal processes that further demonstrates our resolute commitment to resolving the situation as quickly as humanly possible.

As a result of this acceleration, earthworks have been completed. Once the site is ready, the community will be moved to Bosasa, Mfuleni. This area is within 5km of two clinics, a transport route, schools, a library and a shopping centre.

We will, at the same time, continue with our upgrade plans of BM Section which will see the area being developed with a formal layout plan with increased access roads, fire breaks and improved services.

Obviously, the City would like to solve the housing challenges that face our city and South Africa overnight. This is sadly not possible, but instead of being paralysed by these immense challenges, we are implementing a broad range of initiatives to incrementally improve the quality of the living environments of all our residents – ranging from informal settlement upgrading, to transferring title deeds and building new homes. We acknowledge that the process is lengthy, but the City is committed to meeting this challenge in a multi-faceted manner.

On a broader scale, and to minimise tragedies like the BM Section fire, the City has built up its Fire and Emergency Rescue Services from being under-resourced to a professional team who serve all the residents of Cape Town with equal commitment. 

Since 2006 we have opened five new fire stations to plug the gaps in response times and ensure that we get closer to high risk fire areas, we have spent R300 million on resourcing the Fire and Rescue Services with vehicles and equipment, we increased the staff complement by at least 25% and we have invested heavily in training with the new fully accredited training college in Epping.

This brought our fire mortality rate in informal settlements down from 7.9/100,000 to 4.3/100,000 in five years.

The City is currently implementing engineering solutions that seek to further minimise the risk of extensive fire damage in informal settlements. To this end, re-blocking has been prioritised.

Re-blocking is the term used when the structures are grouped and reformatted in a manner which optimally utilises the space with the intention of creating a communal space, enhancing security and improving fire-prevention and service delivery in informal settlements that are extremely dense. 

The City is also currently meeting with suppliers of innovative solutions in the form of fire retardant paints, innovative shack designs and safer lighting units. Furthermore the provision of fire extinguishers to communities is currently being tested.

With regard to the educational initiatives, a number of at-risk communities have been engaged in awareness campaigns that included instruction in the use of fire extinguishers. The City has also employed the services of the Jungle Theatre Company to educate various communities with an interactive and hands on learning experience.

The work that this City does in this regard is unprecedented across South Africa.

We pride ourselves on being the most responsive and transparent municipality – both in terms of disaster management and with regards to providing responses to the media and, in turn, our voting public who we expect to hold us accountable.

The numerous measures the City has undertaken are genuine efforts to find solutions to a complex issue.

COUNCILLOR ERNEST SONNENBERG, Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements. DM


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