South Africa

Khayelitsha blaze aftermath

A family mourns after deadly fire comes in the night

This aerial image showing the devastating aftermath of a shack fire at the weekend in Town Two, Khayelitsha, has been circulated widely on social media. Image courtesy of City of Cape Town, 21 October 2018.

A bird’s eye view image of the Khayelitsha fire that left thousands of people homeless sparked alarm and outrage in South Africans this weekend. Daily Maverick spoke to family members of Sango Nqeneka, who died in the fire.

The fire that claimed the life of 31-year-old Sango Nqeneka started in his backyard room in the Khayelitsha informal settlement, Town 2.

His mother, Nozuko Maliwa told Daily Maverick that she was woken by a “loud bang” that came from her son’s back room at about 3am.

Residents use new and old materials to rebuild. Photo taken in Khayelitsha, Cape Town on 23 October 2018 by Aphiwe Ngalo.

She went to investigate outside, and saw flames coming from the direction of his room. “I banged the wall to see if my son was inside, no sound came. At this point, the fire was growing and becoming unruly.”

Maliwa, who at the time was babysitting her four-year-old grandchild, ran into her house and grabbed her grandchild and ID and attempted to escape the fire. Community members and the fire brigade tried to contain the fire, but the gale-force winds of the night hampered efforts. The fire was contained at 9am on Saturday.

The fire destroyed about 1,000 shacks and left about 4,000 people homeless in the Khayelitsha informal settlement, Town 2, after it broke out and spread at 3am.

“What made matters worse was the fact that the fire brigade had trouble getting to the fire,” said Maliwa. Town 2 like, Imizamo Yethu — where a fire claimed the life of a six-month-old child earlier this year, has narrow paths for roads between the homes in the informal settlements, which is an obstacle for fire fighters to enter.

Resident  assist each other to build new homes. Photo taken in Khayelitsha, Cape Town by Aphiwe Ngalo on 23 October 2018.

On Monday, members of the community were rebuilding what was once home to many of them who lost everything in the fire. Nomsikelelo Nqeneka, the sister of the deceased, Sango Nqeneka, says that all she has left are the clothes she had on on the day of the fire. “Ndisinde kuba bendisemsebenzini mna (I survived because I was at work at the time of the fire).

The only thing my mother was able to salvage from the fire, was her ID, other than that, ayikho into esinayo.Nalempahla siyinxibileyo, siyiphiwe ngabantu.” (We have nothing left. Even the clothes that we are wearing, they have been given to us by community members.)

This is not the first tragedy to hit the family this year. In February, Maliwa’s husband and father of her children died. “I was still mourning, bendisanxibe iimpahla zokuzila. Ngoku zitshele pha zonke.” (I was still in the period of wearing my mourning clothes. Now they all got burnt in the fire.)

Only sand remains, where homes used to be. Photo taken in Khayelitsha on 23 October 2018 by Aphiwe Ngalo

Maliwa said that her son, who worked in construction, was the breadwinner of their family. “I don’t know where we’re going to get money from now because even she (pointing at her daughter, Nomsikelelo Nqeneka) works as a stocktaker and they only get called to come in when needed. And even when they do work, they only get paid around R300.”

When asked about her son’s burial, Maliwa said, “Andiyazi noyazi ukuba ndizakuyiqala njani eyomngcwabo ngokuba andinayo neCent. (I don’t even know where I’m going to get money for the funeral because I don’t even have a cent on me right now.)

An aerial image of Town Two, Khayelitsha, after a shack fire on Saturday left hundreds of families homeless. Image courtesy of City of Cape Town, 21 October 2018.

Community members are trying to rebuild their lives, one corrugated sheet at a time. Maliwa says that she hopes that God will provide for her and her family.

The thousands of people who lost their homes are being accommodated by residents in neighbouring informal settlements. Organisations such as the SASSA and Gift of the Givers are providing food and aid to the community. The city of Cape town has provided 100 fire kits to the community.

The cause of the fire has not yet been established.

In another Cape Town fire at the weekend, in Kosovo in Philippi, about 1400 people were displaced. DM


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