Maverick Citizen


Durban residents try to rebuild their lives after devastating fire

Durban residents try to rebuild their lives after devastating fire
The community of Kennedy Road informal settlement in Durban rebuilds homes razed by a fire on Sunday morning, leaving one person dead. (Photo: Mandla Langa)

Damaged sheets of corrugated iron were stacked in bundles as residents of Kennedy Road informal settlement in Durban attempted to recover after a fire that destroyed more than 1,000 homes.

Thandeka Zondo was sleeping on Sunday morning when she heard people screaming that there was a fire.

“We tried to salvage what we could, but we lost the kids’ uniforms and my biggest worry is my ID,” she said, standing in her shack, which was missing some of its corrugated iron sheeting, exposing the interior to the elements.

One person died and thousands were displaced after a fire tore through the Kennedy Road informal settlement in Durban on Sunday.

According to the eThekwini Municipality, the person who died was a 25-year-old man from Eastern Cape. The municipality said 1,101 homes were destroyed, leaving more than 1,700 adults and almost 650 children displaced.

durban fire

The remains of what were once homes in Kennedy Road, Durban after they were destroyed by fire on Sunday morning. (Photo: Mandla Langa)

Zondo slept in her damaged shack on Sunday night and will continue to stay there to guard the goods she managed to salvage and to safeguard her piece of land.

Her children, aged five, nine and 15, are in the Eastern Cape for the school holidays and will have to miss classes until she can finish rebuilding the structure and obtain new uniforms.

“It is so cold; this is no way to live. I am just glad my children are not here, otherwise I would be even more stressed,” Zondo said.

Bilal Jeewa from Gift of the Givers says they provided some essentials to community members who are now being housed in the Kennedy Road Community Hall.

“The Gift of the Givers Foundation provided 800 blankets and 15 mattresses to displaced persons. The team also handed out baby diapers to mothers in the hall. We are in contact with eThekwini Disaster Management if further assistance is required,” Jeewa said.

Community members can’t agree on how the fire started.

Masiko Mazinyo said he lost everything, but is most concerned about his ID and bank cards.

“This is a very bad situation. People are sleeping outside because they are afraid of losing their stands or losing their cut of land, because when people are rebuilding they might cut into your land,” Mazinyo said.

durban fire

The community of Kennedy Road informal settlement in Durban is in the process of rebuilding homes razed by a fire on Sunday morning. (Photo: Mandla Langa)

Some community members were angered by the attention the disaster has brought to the informal settlement while residents needed assistance. “We are so hungry, yet people keep coming around to stare,” said one resident.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Disaster response teams descend on Durban’s Kennedy Road shack fire site as thousands left homeless

CityHope Disaster Relief officials were on site evaluating the situation. Sanele Gasa, a project manager at the nonprofit organisation, said they had been at Kennedy Road many times in the wake of fires.

“We found that people need building material and food. We can only assist with food and hygiene packs. We call on corporates to help provide building materials and volunteers to come and assist us handing out food,” Gasa said.

durban fire

People in Kennedy Road informal settlement in Durban rebuild their homes. (Photo: Mandla Langa)

S’bu Zikode, the co-founder of the shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, said it was a disgrace that people didn’t have land and were forced to live in cramped conditions, which made them vulnerable to runaway fires.

Informal settlements are prone to fires in winter, but the weekend’s blaze is one of the largest experienced in the Kennedy Road settlement, which has existed for more than 18 years.

Thousands of people are displaced by fires in informal settlements every year and although organisations have attempted to pilot projects such as introducing smoke alarms, these measures don’t work in informal settlements because of poor infrastructure and other conditions.

A research paper titled “Energy poverty, shack fires and childhood burns” found: “The effect of such fires typically results in significant economic losses and reduced quality of life for the affected community, and often the loss of lives. Fires kill thousands of people every year, with many more disabled or seriously injured, resulting in untold and often lifelong misery and entrenched poverty.” DM


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