Usindiso fire survivors at Lindela Repatriation Centre might stay for months before release
A witness held at the Lindela Repatriation Centre after the fire in the Usindiso building told the commission of inquiry headed by retired judge Sisi Khampepe when food became scarce at the Hofland recreational centre, people started to fend for themselves and order was lost.
Jumu Moosa Shelufumo from Tanzania was a resident in the hijacked Usindiso building in the Johannesburg CBD when the fire on August 30 ravaged the building, rendering many destitute.
A raid was conducted at the Hofland community centre where survivors were homed on November 15 where police, emergency services, home affairs and City of Johannesburg officials demanded identification.
“When they arrived they gathered us all to talk. One man wanted to know how many South African, Tanzanian, Malawian and Zimbabweans were there. We were put in groups according to nationality. They enquired about our identification. They further divided us into groups of those who had passports and those who didn’t.
“South Africans were given transport somewhere else and the rest of us were taken to a police station. They knew our passports were burned in the fire and asked if they were valid before they were burned. Some people’s stamps were not valid,” said Shelufumo.
He said living conditions at Lindela are not favourable as there are not enough basic supplies.
“The situation is difficult when it comes to food. The food is very little. We have two meals a day. The last meal is around 2pm. Some people have fainted because the food is not enough.
“We were told we cannot leave until there is an outcome from the high court. They told us we might be here for about five months,” Shelufumo said.
He told the commission after the fire he and several other residents slept outside the gutted building until they made it to Hofland.
“We had a lot of help at the centre. They gave us food and health assistance. The Red Cross was there and they helped us to call home and let them know what happened and that we were fine. Later, things changed. Searching for food was difficult.
“There are people with different behaviours . Even the bathrooms were starting to get dirty. Some people had jobs, some sold clothes donated to them or cigarettes to make a living. They had children so they had to get out to look for food,” he said.
People were using a single kitchen with one stove that could only accommodate five people at a go.
“We cooked for ourselves. Others had to use firewood outside. There were two bathrooms for women and children, another two for men and one outside which women used. Some rooms had bathrooms and there was a place where we could brush our teeth.
“People had to bath in slots as the space was not equipped to accommodate all of them.
“We would sit and think a lot. There wasn’t much to do. I didn’t have any money to to leave the centre.”
The inquiry is set to resume on Friday with testimony from more witnesses.
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