Maverick Citizen


Hundreds left homeless after fire sweeps through Hout Bay’s Imizamo Yethu

Hundreds left homeless after fire sweeps through Hout Bay’s Imizamo Yethu
A fire in the informal settlement of Imizamo Yethu, located in the Hout Bay Valley area, Cape Town, has left hundreds of residents displaced. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

A fire destroyed dozens of shacks in Imizamo Yethu informal settlement in Hout Bay on Sunday evening. Some residents lost their homes for the second time in less than a year. Gift of the Givers is now providing aid to those affected by the blaze.

A fire tore through part of the Imizamo Yethu informal settlement in Hout Bay on Sunday night, destroying about 60 structures and displacing more than 200 residents.

The City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue Service was notified of the fire shortly after 7pm, according to Jermaine Carelse, spokesperson for the service. A total of 18 firefighting resources and 70 staff were on the scene. 

“Just after midnight, the blaze was contained and extinguished. However, crews were once again confronted by a volatile crowd blocking access to the fire,” said Carelse. “The city’s law enforcement department and the South African Police Service had to be called to stabilise the situation.”

Residents of Imizamo Yethu clear debris in the wake of the fire, Hout Bay, Cape Town. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

No injuries or fatalities have been reported and the cause of the blaze remains unknown.

Gift of the Givers arrived in Imizamo Yethu on Monday morning to provide aid to the victims. Project manager Ali Sablay said that the fire swept through the settlement’s Madiba Square, and estimated that the number of displaced residents was close to 300.

Gift of the Givers is providing assistance to fire victims in Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay, Cape Town. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

“People are really upset … In the last five years, we’ve been to the same place probably six, seven times, to assist those same people,” he said.

“We have people who at that time were children and are now adults … they know all our staff by their first names because they got so used to our teams coming to assist.”

Nomatamsanqa Khwatshube-Gadudu, a mother of two, told Maverick Citizen this was the second time she had lost her home in a fire. The previous occasion was in September last year.

Nomatamsanqa Khwatshube-Gadudu (left) lost her home in the recent fire at Imizamo Yethu in the Hout Bay Valley area, Cape Town. She stands with her sister, Phumza Khwatshube, awaiting assistance from Gift of the Givers. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

“I don’t have [identity] documents … because I lost them in the previous fire,” said Khwatshube-Gadudu. “[This time] we managed to take some of the clothes out. We didn’t have a lot, because we were still trying to rebuild from the last fire.”

Khwatshube-Gadudu lives with her two children, husband, sister and sister-in-law. The family is planning to stay with her aunt until they are able to rebuild.

“I stay with my disabled sister, she’s suffering from autism … It’s going to go back to square one now, she lost her medication. Now, I have to make a plan to go and get her medication,” said Khwatshube-Gadudu.

Residents of Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay, Cape Town, clear debris in the wake of the fire. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

Gift of the Givers is providing hot meals, toiletry packs and baby care packs to residents in need, according to Sablay. Clothing is also being provided, as some victims were left with only the clothes they were wearing.

“We’ll be here for the next few days, until the documents are registered with [the SA Social Security Agency]. Then they will take over in providing humanitarian aid,” said Sablay.

Lazola Jobo’s sister lost her home in the recent fire at Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay, Cape Town. He says that building material is what residents need most in the wake of the incident. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

The affected residents need building materials more than anything else, said Lazola Jobo, whose sister lost her home in the fire.

“We’re just waiting for assistance from government … we don’t want money – just give us the material,” he said.

The City of Cape Town said it used to be the only metro in South Africa that provided building materials outside of a declared disaster. However, grant cuts ended the programme more than two years ago.

“The city applies to the national disaster authorities to have incidents declared a disaster in order to possibly unlock disaster relief funds from the national government,” it stated. “The city does what it can to provide soft relief, enable humanitarian assistance, clear sites and debris for rebuilding and assist where it can.”

The fire in Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay, Cape Town, destroyed about 60 informal structures. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

Preventing fires

A main concern is the frequency with which fires are breaking out in Imizamo Yethu, said Sablay, which has a traumatising effect on the children.

“Some parents, they’re struggling to put their children to sleep at night, because every time they hear something – something burst or something exploding – they’ll shout, ‘Mama, fire, fire, fire!’”

Residents of Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay, Cape Town, attempt to rebuild structures in the wake of the fire. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

Each fire has financial implications for the city, including repairing sewage, water and electricity infrastructure.

“At the end of the day, government is changing, politicians are changing … but the people are staying in the same situation,” said Sablay.

“There is a solution … there’s a lot of land available. It’s just for people to come together and provide these people with permanent accommodation. Not this accommodation that’s inhumane and where, in a split second, lives can be lost and people’s whole livelihoods destroyed.” DM/MC


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Caroline White says:

    About 20 years ago, I and anthropologists around South Africa did a research investigation for the then Dept of Energy on how people used energy sources like coal, paraffin, candles, electricity. Our colleague from East London wrote about how dangerous “Squatter settlememts” were. People could so easily knock over candles and paraffin stoves which caused devastating fires. Nothing seems to have been done to make these settlements safer. It is a tragedy.

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