Winter fires leave the poorest poorer
For the past 100 years, residents of Alexandra township’s poorest communities have suffered the same fiery fate.
As winter approaches, like clockwork routine fires blaze through densely packed shacks, destroying homes and threatening lives.
“There is no electricity and it gets cold so we light the paraffin lamps,” Nsoakhe Nuanuali said as she sat with her cousins and neighbours in a makeshift shack where she lives with eight of her family members.
Early Sunday morning, Nuanuali woke up to a billowing gust of smoke blowing through her front door. When she opened the door, she saw her neighbor’s shack ablaze.
The fire quickly burnt through the dense neighborhood, consuming 12 shacks before it was satisfied.
Twenty-six people were displaced as a result, including young children.
One was transported to Tembisa Hospital for critical burns, according to Tshepo Motlhane, spokesman for the Disaster Management Center.
“I have been working to rebuild my home for the past week, day and night,” said Bulelani Dani as he picked up a metal scrap which would soon become his wall. Dani’s home was destroyed in the fire.
Nothing goes to waste in the rebuilding efforts. Charred pieces of wood were sanded off and re-posted. Burnt metal was flipped over. In the moments when they had nothing, community members of the Vugani squatter camp lent one another a helping hand to rebuild the homes they so quickly lost.
“People here are united. We all volunteer and help and sacrifice for each other. The help just comes from their good hearts,” Dani said.
Just two days later on the opposite end of the township, another fire burned its way through four homes, displacing 12 community members.
The cause of the second fire was similar to the first: the wintery chill and lack of electricity prompts residents to light paraffin lamps and keep them ablaze over night – significantly increasing the chances of fire accidents.
Sandwiched in the middle of this devastation, the community reached its centenary.
On Tuesday, the township had officially turned 100 years old, but instead of celebrating, many residents worked on rebuilding their homes.
In coordination with Wits University’s humanitarian assistance course, NGO’s and aid organizations paid a visit to the charred homes to assess the damage and strategise a way to help.
After seeing the devastation, the Gauteng branch of the SA National Zakah Fund (SANZAF) decided to donate R25 000 to rebuilding efforts.
“We can’t just sit here and fold out hands, we have to come and help to the best of our ability,” said SANZAF spokesman Yusuf Tara ‘Seedat.