The Christmas Day shack fires in Siqalo informal settlement.     Tracey Adams African News Agency (ANA)
The Christmas Day shack fires in Siqalo informal settlement. Tracey Adams African News Agency (ANA)

24 deaths from 180 Cape shack fires this December alone

By ASANDA SOKANYILE Time of article published Dec 28, 2019

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It’s been a fiery start to the festive season with more than 180 shack fires and 24 fire-related deaths recorded by the city’s fire and rescue services since the beginning of December.

On Christmas Day, 30-year-old security guard Pitso Mokoena died in a fire in Siqalo informal settlement near Mitchells Plain. His body was found in his bed, burnt beyond recognition.

His devastated girlfriend, Nomzamo Nyebe, 30, said she was struggling to deal with the loss and telling the couple’s 2-year-old child.

She could not hold back her tears as she spoke to Weekend Argus about the death her partner of six years.

According to neighbours, this had been the third fire in the settlement in less than a year.

Nyebe’s last memory of her boyfriend before she had to identify his remains was during a Christmas Day celebration at a neighbour’s home, before he left to go to bed.

“We spent the day together, but he later left saying he was going to sleep because he’d had a little too much to drink. I agreed and said I would follow soon. Moments later, neighbours cried: ‘Fire! Fire!’ and we all came out,” she said.

“He was just bones, we could see the frame of his body and that was it, nothing else,” said Nyebe.

“We don’t know how the fire started, but we suspect he fell asleep while smoking. There is no way that a stove could have started the fire, he didn’t cook here.”

Community leader Zukiswa Sandlana said empty promises by the government were partly to blame for the loss of lives

“Fire is a regular occurrence. We were told we would be moved to certain areas and houses built for us, but nothing has happened as yet.

“We were also told there would be spaces created between our homes to help fire services gain better access to the community during times of fire. That too has not happened. We do not know what more to say or do when speaking to these people.”Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services spokesman Jermain Carelse said five people died on Christmas Day in three different shack fires.

“The City’s Fire and Rescue Service responded to informal structures alight in Vilakazi Street, Masiphumelele. Several were destroyed and during mopping-up operations the bodies of a man and a second body burnt beyond recognition were discovered.

“The Fire and Rescue Service also responded to informal structures alight in Vrygrond, Lavender Hill. All these scenes were handed over to the South African Police Service.”

While fire and safety education campaigns to inform residents about the dangers of shack fires and ways to avoid them are ongoing, dense and overpopulated informal settlements make it difficult for emergency services to render much-needed aid during a blaze.

Cape Town firefighters have responded to a total of 2 100 emergency calls so far this month.

Weekend Argus

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