“My only thought was: I don’t want to die”

Nolufefe Mhlangeni lost her home and possessions in Sunday morning’s fire in Masiphumelele. Photo by Thembela Ntongana.

Thembela Ntongana

30 November 2015

Nolufefe Mhlangeni lost her mother and her two-year-old daughter in a fire in Masiphumelele in 2013. On Sunday, she lost her home.

“It was the 7th of December 2013 when my mom and daughter died in a fire. And now I’ve lost my home,” Mhlangeni told GroundUp today.

When the fire started, a few houses away from her one-room shack, the only thing she could think about was running for her life.

She fled the house with nothing and has been given a pair of jeans by someone she knows so that she can change.

“My mind wasn’t working. I just wanted to be safe. My only thought was: I don’t want to die,” says Mhlangeni.

Even when she gets the building material the City of Cape Town is providing for those whose homes burned down, she won’t know where to start, she says. She hopes someone will come to help her rebuild her home.

Mhlangeni, 24, is unemployed.

After burying her mother and daughter she decided to stay in the Eastern Cape for a while before coming back to Cape Town. In February she returned, and she had hoped to try to make a new life for herself and forget the past, she says. But the fire on Sunday brought it all back.

Mhlangeni’s neighbour Mzingisi Ndwayi fled his house with nothing but a vest and shorts.

“The fire was already in the house. I couldn’t do anything.

“I have no shoes, no clothes, I have nothing to my name. I am now wearing shoes that my aunt gave to me, women’s shoes.”

Ndwayi had planned to leave for the Eastern Cape in two days and had already bought things to take home.

He says he can no longer go home but will have to carry on working to make money.

“I just want to be able to get a place to sleep. Anything else is a dream for now. Things like fridges and electric stoves I will have to do without.”

The fire, one of the biggest ever to hit the sections D and E of the Wetlands informal settlement in Masiphumelele,has left over 4,000 people homeless.

Residents of nearby areas have come to offer help and companies like Shoprite are providing soup and bread to those who have lost their homes.

On Monday, the day after the fire, under a blazing sun residents were trying to recover the burnt material so they could start building.

Some were being provided with building materials by their employers.

Others like Nolufefe Bisani were waiting for the materials promised by the City.

Bisani was able to save some of her belongings.

But the material that she will receive from the City will not allow her to build a shack as big as the one she had and she will have to make do with a one-room shack now.

“I just want a place to sleep, I don’t have money to buy new material. That will have to wait.

“My kids were coming from the Eastern Cape to visit for the holidays. But I have had to tell them the bad news that they can’t come, because where will they sleep?”

Some residents went to the community hall and were there until late last night to receive blankets and register their names on the list of people needing materials.

The City has asked residents to wait until the ground has been cleared and roads have been made before starting to rebuild. But residents without relatives to take them in have decided to clear their own spaces and start building their homes.

Ward councillor Felicity Purchase said it might be a couple of days before residents could start building.

“We are now clearing the site and will then build the shacks into blocks, making roads to make clear access for fire services,” Purchase told GroundUp.