Immigrants in Imizamo Yethu: no relocation from community “we are used to”

Some foreign nationals have rebuilt their shacks after the fire despite City agreement

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Photo of shacks
Shacks being rebuilt after the fire in Imizamo Yethu. Photo: Bernard Chiguvare

Many foreign nationals who were left homeless after the catastrophic fire that started on 10 March in Imizamo Yethu, are afraid that they will lose their spaces once the City reblocks. They are rebuilding their shacks as fast as they can.

On the weekend, GroundUp spoke to a number of residents who have registered with the City after the fire, but who fear that as immigrants they will be sidelined and relocated to other areas.

Maxwell Alfred, 29, originally from Malawi, had almost completed re-erecting his shack. He has lived in Imizamo Yethu for four years. He lost all his belongings in the fire. He rents the shack for R600 a month. Alfred is self-employed, working as a house painter.

“My wife works as a maid here in Imizamo Yethu,” said Alfred. “If the City relocates us, it will be costly. We don’t have money to cover the transport cost for both of us for the month. It is better that the City find space for us here in this community we are used to.”

He has tried to find alternative accommodation.

“I have been making a place to sleep on the road for me and my family. The hall is full, and I cannot take my three-year-old girl to such a place. It is unhealthy,” he said.

Donnie Banda, 37 also from Malawi, was separated from his family as a result of the fire. His wife and two children, aged two and six, went to stay with her sister, while he stayed with a friend.

He had completed rebuilding his shack and had already moved back in. He spent R2,300 buying the building material.

Matias Lucas, who is Angolan, lost all his belongings and his South African residence permit in the fire. He was making a living cooking and selling vetkoek and chips, but he lost his cooking utensils in the blaze. He doesn’t know how he will restart his business. “This was my only source of money,” he said.

Lucas has been staying in Imizamo Yethu since 1998. He was a fisherman until the company that employed him closed down. Since the fire, he has also been separated from his family as his wife and child are staying with friends.

“It is very difficult to start a new life elsewhere and get used to that community,” said Lucas.

Asked what he would do if the City demolishes his shack, he said, “I have nowhere to go … Since I came in South Africa I have been staying here in Imizamo Yethu and this is my own shack.” He thinks the City should have re-blocked long ago, before the fire incident.

Pierrinne Leukes, spokesperson for Mayor Patricia de Lille said that foreign nationals would be treated equally and assured GroundUp that everyone who had been registered would be accommodated.

She said, “The city has already registered 2,086 affected residents, and emergency kits will be given to all of them.”

“We have also reached an agreement with the majority of the members of community to undertake massive re-blocking (super-blocking) in the informal settlement.

“They are in agreement that this will prevent another situation where emergency services cannot access them and bring them to safety. Re-blocking will ensure fairness and safety in that standard, demarcated and serviced plots are being given to all of those who have been affected. This process begins in Mandela Square today [Monday].”

TOPICS:  Housing Immigration

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