Durban - The shack dwellers of Kennedy Road have had their shacks burnt to the ground at least twice in the past two years, but as they rebuild their homes after another inferno they say they have no option but to dust off the ashes and rebuild as they have nowhere to go.
“Society has turned a blind eye to the uneducated, the unemployed and those who are literally living from hand to mouth but you either find us in the shacks or the rural areas where we have to take leftover scraps from the rich and try and live off them,” says Mzuzu Tembe, a shack dweller at the informal settlement.
When asked about the most prized possession he lost in Tuesday’s shack fire, which left dozens homeless, the father of two from Jozini said it was the school uniform for his five-year-old daughter, Senamile, which he had been saving up for since April.
Tembe works at a local car wash and makes between R700 and R1200 in a good month.
“She (Senamile) was so excited when we went to buy it a couple of weeks ago and I was happy because I wanted her to have a full school uniform so that she doesn’t look or feel different from other kids,” says Tembe. “But now she might have to go in hand-me-downs or without a uniform, if the school allows it, for a few months,” he said.
The fire, as with the previous two fires, is believed to have been caused by illegal electricity connections. These are rife in the area, even though the fully-powered government transit camps are less than five minutes from many of the shacks that were gutted by the flames.
One of the fire victims, who did not want to be named, said he had lost R5000 in the blaze. He’d been saving the money to pay damages to the maternal family of his child in Vryheid.
The R5000 had been his share from stokvel contributions.
“I hid the money in the base of the bed and I was going to withdraw the rest from the bank on Friday because her family is expecting us on Saturday.
“I haven’t told my girlfriend. I don’t know what to say but I’ve asked my uncles to call her family and ask them to give me more time,” he said.
Nandipha Qaloshe, a mother of three children who is eight months’ pregnant, fears that her children will be caught in the fires one day. Her husband, Thembinkosi Sibabula, said it was difficult for them as they had lost a month’s worth of groceries.
Said Qaloshe: “Luckily Thembinkosi was home on Tuesday. I was at the clinic. He moved all the children to safety, but unfortunately no one was able to save all our belongings.”
The couple also lost groceries for the month and school stationery that they had bought recently for two of their daughters.
When the City Watch team visited the site on Wednesday, Sibabula was already rebuilding the shack as he said they had nowhere to sleep.
“We used the last remaining cash to buy new planks and sheets of corrugated iron. Some of that we salvaged after the fire was no longer usable."
“We will worry about the blankets and food once we have a roof over our heads, but in the meantime shelter is the main priority. As you can see, everyone is trying to rebuild their shacks before their sites are stolen by opportunists,” said Sibabula.
eThekwini Municipality spokesperson Tozi Mthethwa said in a statement, the cause of the blaze was being investigated.
Mthethwa said the city was offering help to the fire victims.
“It is still unclear what ignited the blaze but, according to an eyewitness, the fire started from one of the shacks that was unoccupied. When the fire broke out, most of the dwellers were away. As a result, the municipality only started doing the assessment and offering relief (on Wednesday).
“So far, only 82 people have come forward to claim ownership of the 80 burnt structures. The victims are being temporarily accommodated at a local hall and some are sheltering with friends and neighbours,” said Mthethwa.
The city, working with non-profit organisations, has provided blankets, food and counselling to affected victims, said Mthethwa.