Residents in search of help after inferno

PHIRI CAWE

A fire that swept through the Marikana informal settlement near Lower Crossroads in the early hours of Saturday July 9, destroyed at least seven shacks and left more than 20 people homeless.

The smell of smoke alerted people to the fire. Residents described seeing smoke pouring out of windows and doors. It was a fierce blaze, and residents fought the flames futilely with water and sand.

City fire and rescue spokeswoman Liezl Moodie said firefighter companies, including three fire engines and two water tankers, from Gugulethu, Mitchell’s Plain and Ottery fire stations, had responded to the call-out. A toppled candle, she said, had caused the fire, which destroyed seven shacks and left 25 people homeless. Residents say 10 shacks were destroyed.

According to Ward 35 councillor, Mzuzile Mpondwana and residents Vukani spoke to, no one was injured, and this was confirmed by Ms Moodie.

When Vukani visited the settlement on Monday July 11, residents were sifting through the blackened ruins of their homes trying to piece their lives back together. Some were clearing rubble and rebuilding, others sorted their charred belongings.

A shaken Zama Vetfoot said his son had lost everything in the fire, and others were in the same predicament.

“Children’s school clothes, identity documents, children’s birth certificates and clinic cards were all destroyed in that fire. All they have are the clothes they are wearing. I was not here, so I lost big time. I am devastated,” he said.

Those left homeless had sought shelter with relatives, he said.

He praised the brave souls who had retrieved gas cylinders from the local store before the fire consumed them. “They were brave enough and were quick to think about them… I am grateful to them.” Things could have been a lot worse, had it not been for their quick thinking, he said.

Nocingile Mqalase was in the Eastern Cape when the fire happened. Someone phoned her as she was travelling home to tell her about her shack.“The bad news reached me while I was away. You can imagine the stress I went through,” she said.

She lost all her important documents and clothing, and she doesn’t know where to begin with rebuilding.

“I am a single mother, and I did not have materials to rebuild. I just lost my husband last year.”

Azizipho Mkongi said her parents had also been left with nothing after the fire. She appealed to good Samaritans to help people rebuild their lives.

Mr Mpondwana said he wasn’t sure if the City would provide building materials because Marikana is on private land.

The City’s disaster risk management spokeswoman Mandy Thomas said they had alerted the Red Cross, which would assist with food parcels, clothing, vanity packs, blankets and one baby pack. And the City’s human settlements department would provide starter kits to help the community rebuild.