Pretoria - A Teary Manehe Medupi, who hails from Lesotho, was among dwellers of Cemetery View informal settlement near Woodlands shopping centre, who were left displaced when close to 500 shacks were razed to the ground on Saturday night.
At least two men and a child estimated to be seven years old were reported dead and some residents were rushed to hospitals for treatment of burn injuries.
Like many other victims Medupi threw her hands in the air after her desperate efforts to salvage some of her belongings from the raging fire amounted to nothing.
Medupi spent Heritage Day on Sunday seeking help from good Samaritans after the disastrous fire.
Smouldering fire and flames from the rubble could still be seen on Sunday morning when the ‘Pretoria News’ visited the scene. More than two vehicles were also burnt to ashes.
There was a hive of activities as some fire victims were busy rebuilding their shacks with wood, corrugated iron, plastic and boxes despite a plea by authorities to wait until the SAPS had finished their investigation from “a crime scene”.
Medupi recounted that the fire started at one of the shacks on Saturday night at 8pm just when she was preparing to go to bed.
“It then spread so quickly to other shacks. We tried in vain to put it out but we couldn’t manage. I lost my passports, documents of my bank accounts, and a clinic card. I am only left with the clothes I am wearing,” she said.
She said she left Lesotho five years ago together with her husband to move to Pretoria in search of a better life.
“I just feel like crying. I don’t have the strength to do anything else. We have no food, no clothes, no blankets, no pots. We also don’t know how we would rebuild our shack. Two people died inside their shack and a child,” said a distraught Medupi.
Another dweller, Mmathuso Gabasisi, also from Lesotho said the whole community was in shock after they lost everything.
“We are left with nothing. We have no shoes. We are pleading with whoever could help us with whatever form of assistance to reach out to us because we are desperate.”
Itumeleng Lemise, who also suffered the same fate, said: “I am powerless. I am lucky to have escaped unharmed. But we have nothing; all our belongings were burnt to ashes in the fire. I only have my two kids. No shoes and no school uniforms.”
She recalled that the last time residents experienced a similar disastrous fire was in December 2018.
“The worst fire we had was in December 2018. Other fires that happened in between were able to be put under control,” she said.
The City of Tshwane previously announced plans to relocate residents after establishing a mixed residential township to be known as Pretorius Park Extension 40
Lemise said: “We have been kept in the dark about the relocation plan because they call us foreigners. Mostly when they talk about relocation they involve the South Africans. Initially they said that those with documents would also qualify in terms of relocation but they have since changed their tune.”
Ward councillor Malcolm de Klerk told the ‘Pretoria News’ that at least 400 to 500 shacks were burnt to ashes and that there were plans to arrange a food kitchen and erect shelters in the form of tents for victims.
He bemoaned the fact that it was not for the first time such a furnace destroyed the shacks.
According to him, the plan to relocate people by the municipality would only cater for South Africans and not foreigners.
He said the Department of Home Affairs would need to step in and assist in dealing with cases of foreigners.
He discouraged people from rebuilding because the settlement was still a crime scene.
He confirmed that the SAPS were on scene and they confirmed fatalities.
“There have only been a few reported minor injuries handled by Emergency Medical Service personnel,” he said.
Tshwane Emergency Medical Services’s acting spokesperson, deputy chief Peter Motolla, did not respond to requests for comment.