Masiphumelele residents fear being trapped if there’s a fire

New location has narrow roads and a fence surrounding it

Photo of fence and shacks

People who have been moved to a new informal settlement in Masiphumelele fear that the high close-up fence will make it difficult for them to escape a fire. Photo: Thembela Ntongana

By Thembela Ntongana

30 November 2016

Residents of an informal settlement in Masiphumelele believe the City of Cape Town has put them at greater risk from fires.

About 50 households from Amakhaya Ngoku have been moved to a new area in Masiphumelele called New Life, in order to make way for new housing at Amakhaya Ngoku. New Life is surrounded by a fence with gates for people to move in and out. Unlike Amakhaya Ngoku there is little space between the shacks.

Residents of the moved households told GroundUp they were worried that the small space between their new shacks and the surrounding fence put them at greater risk from fires. In November last year, several thousand residents of Masiphumelele’s informal settlements were displaced by a fire.

But the City’s Mayco Member for Human Settlements Benedicta van Minnen said: “There are gaps in the fences on both sides for people to escape in case of a fire. The fence on the construction side has gates that don’t lock for health and safety purposes, and panels have been removed from the fence on the northern side to make free movement possible.”

However, resident Makhosandile Mgqanqeni said: “Imagine we are all carrying our furniture in the middle of the night and looking into finding a gate because that’s when most fires happen, at night.”

Van Minnen explained that the Amakhaya Ngoku residents had been moved to make way for “156 Breaking New Ground houses which will form part one of the Masiphumelele Phase 4 housing project.”

The beneficiaries of the new houses will mainly be backyarders and people living in Masiphumelele’s informal settlements.

The temporary homes in New Life are six by six metre shacks, built with materials provided by the City. Some people have built extensions using old materials. There are toilets and taps. Residents say the street lights at the entrance are insufficient. But Van Minnen said street lighting would be looked into by the City’s electricity department.

Another resident complained that because she has a car she has had to park it far away from home because the roads in New Life are not wide enough. The resident said two weeks ago someone had tried to steal her car. “Where we stayed before, cars could come into the community easily because we had roads,” she said.

New Life is supposed to be a temporary settlement. However, it’s not clear how long people will live there. About 70 households in Amakhaya Ngoku have not yet been relocated, because space has not been found for them. This is preventing the completion of the Amakhaya Ngoku project. Van Minnen said that without a time frame for the completion of the current Amakhaya Ngoku project it was not possible to say how long people would stay in New Life.