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Johannesburg - About 200 shacks were destroyed in a fire in a Midrand informal settlement, between Pretoria and Johannesburg, on Tuesday, Gauteng emergency services said.

A cloud of thick, dark smoke was hanging above the settlement by mid-afternoon.

Emergency services spokesman Robert Mulaudzi said residents accused Johannesburg metro police of setting the shacks on fire. He said firemen quickly brought the blaze under control as they feared it would spread to other areas.

Wiseman Ndlovu, 38, said he was left destitute because he had nowhere else to go.

“The metro (metro police) burned our shacks down. They should give us a place to stay,” he said.

About 100 people were seated under trees, some women breast-feeding their babies.

“We have nowhere else to go. We will camp here for the rest of the night,” said Millicent Chabalala, 45.

Some residents said they would rebuild their shacks at night.

Johannesburg metro police spokesman Chief Superintendent Wayne Minnaar denied that their officers started the fire.

“The JMPD went to break down illegal shacks because people who were staying at the informal settlement occupied the land illegally. The residents started the fire and not the JMPD.”

The informal settlement is located between the McDonald's restaurant and a block of flats on Grand Central Boulevard.