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Durban - Public order police had to be called in on Sunday after a mob attacked firefighters extinguishing a blaze at the Kennedy Road informal settlement.
Some of the residents had tried to grab a hose from the firefighters, said Phiwokwakhe Mchunu, the Kennedy Road Development Committee member responsible for safety.
“They were desperate, angry and frustrated because they wanted firefighters to pour water where the fire was going to prevent more shacks being burnt, rather than where the fire already was.”
The division commander for operations at Durban fire department, Melvin Ramlall, accused the mob of vandalism and criminality.
He said a fireman suffered minor injuries and a hose was stabbed and a nozzle taken. It was later found damaged.
Two other residents suffered minor injuries, he said. One fell over complaining of body pains and the other cut his foot.
Paramedics treated both.
Ramlall estimated that 250 homes in the Clare Estate settlement were destroyed in the fire, but said some people had already begun rebuilding.
But Abahlali BaseMjondolo, the shack dwellers movement, said more than 90 shacks were burnt down.
“People will not stand for this for much longer. They need to be moved to real homes that will not burn every now and then,” said Mchunu.
Kennedy Road residents have been fighting to be moved to the Cornubia development being built in uMhlanga.
But mayor James Nxumalo told the Daily News that Cornubia could not accommodate all the residents, as it would cater for informal dwellers from all over the city.
He said the city was planning to build homes for 800 families on a site in Kennedy Road.
Details of the planned double-storey housing project were not available on Sunday.
Nxumalo said municipal officials were in the area to assess the damage and he was receiving regular updates.
It took 24 firefighters to extinguish the blaze. “We had to call in extra rescue pumps and water carriers from Congella, Queensburgh and uMlazi,” said Ramlall.
Shack dweller Christopher Zikhali said he was asleep at about 10am when the alarm was raised that a shack at the bottom of the settlement was burning.
“We went down to try and help but because of the wind the fire quickly spread towards us,” he said. “I didn’t think it would get to my house.”
As more shacks went up in flames, he and his neighbours started pulling their possessions out of their homes. But before he could save his furniture, the fire destroyed his home.
Zikhali, who has been living in the settlement for 28 years, said he had recently bought a new bed and wardrobe after his shack was destroyed in a similar fire last year.
“This is the fourth time I have lost my home and property. It pains me that I have to work for the same things over and over again,” he said.
Busi Mayeza, a young mother, rushed back from work after neighbours told her of the fire over the phone.
“I was worried about my 8-month-old baby at crèche,” she said.
Fortunately the crèche had not been affected and after collecting her child, Mayeza was faced with the sight of her home in ashes.
“I have nothing left but the clothes on her back,” she said. “I don’t know what my baby will eat today or where we will sleep.”
Mchunu said those who had lost their homes would be accommodated in a community hall while help was sought.