WATCH | ‘Kutshe kwaphela’: Scores homeless after fires at two Johannesburg informal settlements

Gauteng human settlements department says it has 1.1-million people registered for government subsidised houses

13 March 2023 - 16:34
By SINESIPHO SCHRIEBER
Naomi Kagwa is one of the residents who lost her belongings when 18 shacks burnt to the ground at Thabo Mbeki Village informal settlement near Lion Park, Johannesburg.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi Naomi Kagwa is one of the residents who lost her belongings when 18 shacks burnt to the ground at Thabo Mbeki Village informal settlement near Lion Park, Johannesburg.

Scores of people have been left homeless after fires destroyed many shacks in two informal settlements in Johannesburg recently.  

Eighteen shacks burnt to the ground at Thabo Mbeki Village informal settlement near Lion Park last week, and 11 shacks were destroyed in Emhlangeni informal settlement, Roodepoort over the weekend.

Speaking to TimesLIVE, Thabo Mbeki Village informal settlement ward committee member Sithembile Simelane said the fire started in an empty shack as the owner was at work and quickly spread to nearby shacks.  

“It destroyed everything. Community members tried to pour water to stop it, but the fire was too powerful. People could not save anything because everything [happened] fast.”  

Simelane said residents resorted to sleeping at their neighbours' and friends’ homes.

With just a few metal sheets left from the fire, Simelane said residents had no plan to obtain material to rebuild their homes and were seeking help.

At the weekend, local shops donated food parcels to those in need. 

“As long as we live in shacks we live in fear, because the shacks are not safe. We have had several fires, some which claimed people's lives. Last year there was a fire and a toddler died. In another fire, an old person burnt to death and the body could not even be taken home to be buried by the family,” he said.

Simelane said hundreds of residents hoped their way out of living in shacks was through a government housing subsidy.  

“They have started moving people to a development in Riverside, those who have been living here [since] 1996. We hope for the government to also fast-track allocation of RDP houses for us because living in shacks is dangerous.”  

Ivo Fenioses lost his tuckshop stock when 18 shacks burnt to the ground at Thabo Mbeki Village informal settlement near Lion Park, Johannesburg.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi Ivo Fenioses lost his tuckshop stock when 18 shacks burnt to the ground at Thabo Mbeki Village informal settlement near Lion Park, Johannesburg.

Nozukile Blayi, 53, wept as she told TimesLIVE she lost everything. She had been living in her shack for 14 years. 

She was at work when she received a call that her home was on fire.  

“I left without telling anyone. Ndifike apha kuphelile, kungekho kwanto, kumnyama [when I got here everything was destroyed, there was nothing, it was dark],” she said.

Kutshe kwaphela yonke into [everything burnt].”  

It is not clear when residents of informal settlements who registered for housing would get RDP houses.

Gauteng human settlement department spokesperson Tahir Sema told TimesLIVE the department has 1.1-million people registered for housing.

“This demand stems from 1996 to date, there are also new needs for housing being registered daily.”

Sema said various factors contribute to the backlog, including urbanisation, rapid immigration from other provinces, and a shrinking fiscus. He said the department also struggled with land constraints for housing development.

Naomi Kagwa is one of the residents who lost her belongings when 18 shacks burnt to the ground at Thabo Mbeki Village informal settlement near Lion Park, Johannesburg.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi Naomi Kagwa is one of the residents who lost her belongings when 18 shacks burnt to the ground at Thabo Mbeki Village informal settlement near Lion Park, Johannesburg.

The department was developing serviced stands to give to those on the waiting list who can build for themselves.  

“From 2019 to date, the department has delivered 72,312 housing opportunities. This includes stands and completed housing units,” he said.

Thabo Mbeki informal settlement was not in the department’s current plan. 

Johannesburg emergency management services spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi said the fire at Emhlangeni informal settlement left about 100 people displaced.  

“No injuries or fatalities [were] reported during this fire. The City of Johannesburg disaster management has been activated to facilitate relief for affected families,” Mulaudzi said.  

TimesLIVE

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