Durban - Shack dwellers in Reservoir Hills have spoken of their despair at losing their homes and possessions when a fire ripped through the Shannon Drive informal settlement at the weekend.
About 380 shacks were destroyed in the Friday night blaze, which was started by a candle that tipped over, according to unconfirmed reports.
It seemed like a bomb had been launched into the shack settlement, Michael Majola, 29, said on Sunday.
“Gas tanks exploding sounded like a thunderstorm. The explosions sent metal sheets into the air.”
Majola said the fire spread easily from one shack to another.
Sitting around a fire inside the remains of his home, where only a burnt out refrigerator stood, Thulani Thunzi, 33, said he was struck on the head by a rock after he had woken up his wife and three children.
Residents were throwing rocks and bricks to destroy shacks that were alight to stop the fire from spreading, he said.
“People shouted ‘fire’ so I got my family up and out of the house. The fire was spreading quickly and people were running towards the road. I was trying to take my belongings when I was hit by a rock and fell unconscious.”
When he came to, Thunzi was in for another shock: a man had been looting his room.
“People were walking away with my items and I could do nothing. I am trying to rebuild but I do not know where to start. Goods from my spaza shop were destroyed,” said Thunzi, who was discharged from hospital on Saturday.
“I’ll have to get a loan to restart.”
Another resident, who gave her name only as Thandi, said the woman who lived in the shack where the fire started was inside at the time. Thandi said the woman had to be woken up and told her shack was burning.
Residents tried in vain to extinguish the fire with buckets of water.
Relief agencies, local residents, the eThekwini Municipality and provincial government have provided assistance to the residents.
Reservoir Hills Ward 23 councillor, Themba Mtshali, said 380 shacks were burnt. Affected residents had been moved to tents that had been erected on a playground in Halpin Avenue, he said.
“There are many presumptions about how the fire started. I believe the absence of electricity caused it,” he said.
“Officials from all departments are meeting today (Monday) to decide on the future. “We have the option of building better structures or giving the residents material to rebuild their homes,” Mtshali said.
He said the departments of Human Settlements and Public Works, as well as the eThekwini disaster management unit, had been in touch to assist.
Mtshali said a local Sai organisation, the Divine Life Society and the local ratepayers’ organisation, had also stepped in to help.
Reservoir Hills ratepayers association chairman, Ish Prahladh, said residents should be accommodated in proper houses.
“They should avoid a repetition of shacks.
This is an opportunity to redesign the structure and learn from past mistakes,” Prahladh said.