Two die and hundreds left homeless by Khayelitsha fire

Frustrated victims then occupied vacant land nearby

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Two people died and hundreds of people were left homeless on Sunday night when a massive fire broke out at the Blowy informal settlement in Khayelitsha. Photos: Vincent Lali

  • At least two people died, and many others were left homeless after hundreds of shacks burnt down at Blowy informal settlement in Khayelitsha on Sunday night.
  • Many of the fire victims say they also lost all of their belongings in another fire that happened at Blowy in 2018.
  • On Monday morning, some of the fire victims began rebuilding their homes on vacant land in Town Two, not far from the informal settlement.
  • However the occupied land has been earmarked by the City of Cape Town for another project.

Hundreds of shacks were gutted in a fire at the densely populated Blowy informal settlement in Khayelitsha, killing two people and leaving many others without a place to sleep on Sunday night.

The two people who died are believed to be a couple but their families are yet to be notified, a community leader said.

The City of Cape Town’s fire and rescue service spokesperson, Jermaine Carelse, estimated that more than a hundred structures burnt down. Gift of the Givers, which has been providing aid to fire victims, has estimated the number to be higher, at more than 200 shacks.

Carelse said at about 9pm on Sunday, more than 50 firefighters responded to the area. They only managed to extinguish the blaze just before 3am. “The cause of the fire is unknown and the scene was handed over to the South African Police Service,” he said.

On Monday morning, police watched from a distance as some fire victims began to rebuild their shacks on another piece of vacant land a few minutes away, near the Town Two clinic. They refuse to rebuild the shacks at Blowy because they believe the area is too dangerous. Many of them lost their belongings in a fire at Blowy in 2018.

Thabisa Ngcoli says this fire has been devastating for her and other residents who also lost all of their furniture, clothes and food in the last fire at the same informal settlement in 2018.

Ward Councillor Thando Pimpi said many of the shack dwellers were up in arms because the City had made promises to install taps, electricity and toilets after the fire in 2018. However Pimpi had urged residents not to occupy the Town Two land because the City has earmarked that “land for another project already in the pipeline”.

Blowy’s community leader Sbu Rhathiya said the shack dwellers are tired of waiting for the City to implement the project. “We are taking over the land and we are prepared to fight for it. We will only leave if the city gives us land elsewhere. We don’t want to stay in Blowy again because emergency services can’t access our shacks if there’s a fire,” he said.

Rhathiya said the fire victims were given food by the Gift of the Givers, but they worried about where everyone would sleep on Monday night.

One of the fire victims, Mthobeli Tishala, was among the group who were moving their charred zinc sheets to the land in Town Two on Monday. “I will set up my shack on the land if we are allowed to,” he said.

Tishala lives with his 16-year-old daughter who is physically and mentally disabled. “My daughter can’t eat on her own. She can’t do anything. I want to stay on this land because Blowy is fire-prone and therefore it is not safe for her,” he said.

Another resident, Thabisa Ngcoli, said the fire has been devastating to her and other residents who also lost all of their furniture, clothes and food in the last fire in 2018. “I had almost recovered from the previous loss of my belongings when this fire happened. My bosses had given me pieces of furniture and clothes after the first fire. Now my bed, TV, wardrobe, washing machine, sofas and clothes were destroyed again,” she said. Ngcoli works as a domestic worker in Century City.

Fire victims starting to erect their shacks on vacant land in Town Two on Monday morning.

TOPICS:  Fire Housing

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