13 April 2017
One month after the large fire in Imizamo Yethu there are still unresolved disputes over reblocking between the City of Cape Town and residents.
Reblocking means reconstructing the area so that the shacks are built as blocks with roads between them that emergency services can access. In the event of future fires, this would likely reduce the number of shacks that burn and allow fire engines to reach the shacks.
The City proposed to reblock the area after the large fire of 11 March left thousands homeless. The City wants residents to move into tents while the reblocking takes place. Some residents, mostly those who are renting, occupied the tents while the majority of residents from an area called Shooting Range section opposed the reblocking because of concerns of how long they would be homeless.
Residents opposed to the reblocking began rebuilding their shacks, so the City obtained a court interdict on 19 March against anyone who continued to erect structures. Reblocking began in an area called Mandela Park. But Shooting Range residents claimed the City had no proper plans for them and refused to stay in the tents. They also intended to oppose the City’s interdict.
In a press conference in Imizamo Yethu on Wednesday held by Mayor Patricia De Lille and some community leaders, De Lille declared Imizamo Yethu a local disaster area. She said the City has written to both the provincial and national governments to have the area declared a disaster area and that the application was being considered and processed.
Various timeframes have been provided by the City on how long it would take to reblock the area. De Lille said: “The City was ambitious in the thinking that [reblocking] would be completed in such a short space of time. The terrain is mountainous and therefore very difficult to build on.”
De Lille said would it would take about three months for the City to develop the area and that comfortable living arrangements had to be made to accommodate the residents for the next three months. She added that 53 families had already been moved to temporary relocation areas and that more will continue to be moved in the next few days.
The reblocking project has cost the City approximately R92 million. Additionally costs like installation of electricity will cost R44 million.
Pamela Sofika is a community leader of the Shooting Range informal settlement. She said she is not surprised that the City only called the community leaders that agree with it. “Who are those community leaders? Who are they representing? Because we were not invited and we represent the majority of the fire affected people,” she said
“We have registered over 1,200 residents who are saying no to the City’s plans. They want to move people from a shack to another shack then back to a shack. Where is development in that,” said Sofika. She said they had asked for temporary houses from the City and were told there is no money.
Another resident Nolubabalo Jako said that there will be no progress in the community if the City continues to disregard their concerns. “We might not be educated but we know our rights and we know that we can have a say on how we want to live. They cannot decide for us and force us to do things that we do not want,” said Jako. He said that they have been monitoring the area that is being reblocked and are already unhappy with what they are seeing.
The residents’ main concerns are that they will have to stay in tents during winter. They are also concerned that their homes will be smaller after reblocking.
One of the recommendations residents made to the City was to wait till a housing development currently underway in Imizamo Yethu is finished, move the more than 900 beneficiaries from the fire affected area into the new development. This will open more space for the reblocking to be done, they argue.