CAPE TOWN - A Paarl mother of two may end up spending Christmas in a community hall with more than 100 others after a fire ravaged their shacks in Neder Park, Mbekweni, destroying all their belongings – including new clothes.
The fire, aided by strong winds, broke out in Drommedaris Street on Saturday morning, destroying at least shacks and leaving 200 people destitute.
Drakenstein Municipality Fire Service, assisted by Drakenstein Farmwatch, fought the flames and eventually managed to extinguish the blaze.
By Sunday those who could rebuild were cleaning up and attempting to do so, while others were accommodated in halls and at local churches.
Bukiwe Mdangayi, a mother of two children aged three and seven, said someone had shouted outside that the settlement was burning.
“When I stepped outside the fire was already near my shack and I called out to my neighbours to wake up.
“I ran into my house and woke up the children. I tried to take out our suitcases so that we at least had clothes to wear.
“I placed the suitcase in the wrong place and it burned. My children are still crying and sad.
“We are sleeping in a hall. Most families here use paraffin and gas stoves to cook, which contributed to the blaze.”
Another resident, who planned to travel to the Eastern Cape with her family this week, said her shack burned to the ground.
Community leader Simphiwe Tyhulu said: “We are grateful that at least no one has been killed. If the shacks were not close to each other, maybe so many would not have been destroyed. We are hoping that things will be done differently now that people are rebuilding.”
Drakenstein Municipality spokesperson Lochner van Rensburg said a recount showed the number of people affected to be 162, not 400 as was initially thought.
He said information received pointed to arson and police would launch an investigation.
“No injuries or fatalities were reported. Following an assessment of the victims, Drakenstein Municipality provided food parcels, blankets, vanity kits (toiletries) and cooking utensils to the affected families. Prepared meals will be provided by the municipality for the next three days in partnership with Gift of the Givers. A temporary shelter was made available for all the victims, in fairly close proximity to the affected area.”
Gift of the Givers, a humanitarian relief organisation, sent out standby teams to also deliver hot meals, blankets, mattresses, water, baby formulas and hygiene packs to people affected by the fire.
The NGO’s project manager Ali Sablay said calls had to be made to many people who had already left on holiday to inform them that they had lost their shacks and belongings.
“It is sad that people will come back from holiday and have no place to stay. Most of the people living in the area are from the Eastern Cape and other parts of the country.
Those who witnessed this, including the children, are traumatised.
These families will indeed have a bleak Christmas.
“We will be in talks with the municipality regarding building materials because some cannot afford them and they need to be in their homes at least by Christmas.
“We will also provide food hampers for them to have something on that special day and beyond.”