South Africa

South Africa

GroundUp: “My only thought was, I don’t want to die”

GroundUp: “My only thought was, I don’t want to die”

Nolufefe Mhlangeni lost her mother and her two-year-old daughter in a fire in Masiphumelele in 2013. On Sunday, she lost her home. By THEMBELA NTONGANA for GROUNDUP.

“It was the 7th of December 2013, when my mom and daughter died in a fire. And now I’ve lost my home,” Mhlangeni told GroundUp today.

When the fire started, a few houses away from her one-room shack, the only thing she could think about was running for her life. She fled the house with nothing and has been given a pair of jeans by someone she knows so that she can change.

“My mind wasn’t working. I just wanted to be safe. My only thought was: I don’t want to die,” says Mhlangeni.

Even when she gets the building material the City of Cape Town is providing for those whose homes burned down, she won’t know where to start, she says. She hopes someone will come to help her rebuild her home. Mhlangeni, 24, is unemployed.

After burying her mother and daughter she decided to stay in the Eastern Cape for a while before coming back to Cape Town. In February she returned, and she had hoped to try to make a new life for herself and forget the past, she says. But the fire on Sunday brought it all back. Mhlangeni’s neighbour, Mzingisi Ndwayi, fled his house with nothing but a vest and shorts.

“The fire was already in the house. I couldn’t do anything.

“I have no shoes, no clothes, I have nothing to my name. I am now wearing shoes that my aunt gave to me, women’s shoes.”

Ndwayi had planned to leave for the Eastern Cape in two days and had already bought things to take home. He says he can no longer go home, but will have to carry on working to make money.

“I just want to be able to get a place to sleep. Anything else is a dream for now. Things like fridges and electric stoves I will have to do without.”

The fire, one of the biggest ever to hit the sections D and E of the Wetlands informal settlement in Masiphumelele, has left over 4,000 people homeless. Residents of nearby areas have come to offer help and companies like Shoprite are providing soup and bread to those who have lost their homes. On Monday, the day after the fire, under a blazing sun residents were trying to recover the burnt material so they could start building. Some were being provided with building materials by their employers. Others, like Nolufefe Bisani, were waiting for the materials promised by the City. Bisani was able to save some of her belongings. But the material that she will receive from the City will not allow her to build a shack as big as the one she had and she will have to make do with a one-room shack now.

“I just want a place to sleep, I don’t have money to buy new material. That will have to wait.

“My kids were coming from the Eastern Cape to visit for the holidays. But I have had to tell them the bad news that they can’t come, because where will they sleep?”

Some residents went to the community hall, and were there until late last night to receive blankets and register their names on the list of people needing materials. The City has asked residents to wait until the ground has been cleared and roads have been made before starting to rebuild. But residents without relatives to take them in have decided to clear their own spaces and start building their homes. Ward councillor Felicity Purchase said it might be a couple of days before residents could start building.

“We are now clearing the site and will then build the shacks into blocks, making roads to make clear access for fire services,” Purchase told GroundUp. DM

Photo: A South African boy and resident of Masiphumelele looks over fire devastated parts of the informal shack settlement in Cape Town, South Africa, 29 November 2015. More than 800 shacks were destroyed and over 1000 residents displaced in the fire fanned by gale force winds which quickly spread in the overpopulated and dense shack settlement overnight. EPA/NIC BOTHMA.


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.8% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.2% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.2% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.2%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options