Homes ready for fire vic­tims at last

Months of hard work pay off for Gift of the Givers as they house some of Khayelit­sha’s home­less

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - PAIGE SUTHER­LAND

ON THE first day of this year a fire roared through Khayelit­sha, de­stroy­ing ev­ery­thing in its path, and leav­ing 4 000 peo­ple home­less.

Nearly a year on, most of those fam­i­lies from BM sec­tion have found new homes and are back on their feet – but not with­out a strug­gle.

Them­bisile Bizo lost his spaza shop in the blaze, which de­stroyed his means of pro­vid­ing for his three chil­dren. In Jan­uary, Bizo told the Weekend Ar­gus: “I don’t know what I am go­ing to do. That shop was my bread and but­ter.”

Al­most a year later, Bizo’s shop is run­ning again but it was a very dif­fi­cult year, he said.

“I couldn't af­ford to pay my bills. Or have enough food to feed my chil­dren.”

Af­ter some R10 000 was spent, Bizo’s shop is start­ing to bring in enough money to pay off some of his debt and feed his chil­dren, he said.

That day the flames took five lives: Luyanda Otto Ng­co­bet­shana, 35, Nkosiyabo Lako, 29, Zuk­ile Ma­gada, Sivuy­ile Gqodo and Lun­gelo Krexe, 25. Lako’s older sis­ter, Win­nie Mbot­shana, said it has been a hard year with­out him.

“We are still think­ing about it,” Mbot­shana said. “One day he was there and the next he was burnt to ashes.”

The fire ap­par­ently started when a drunk man fell asleep while try­ing to cook a late night snack.

Al­though a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion was opened, no one was ar­rested.

One fire vic­tim, Irene No­mala, was on hol­i­day in Queen­stown when she got the heart­break­ing call from her hus­band, telling her ev­ery­thing was gone, and that the cou­ple, their son and their grand­son were home­less.

“No house, no clothes – I had noth­ing,” she said. “It’s so hard be­cause we have no money.”

Af­ter the fire, the fam­ily moved in with a cousin of No­mala’s, squeez­ing into an al­ready crowded place where they spent the fol­low­ing three months.

“This one,” she said point­ing to her adult son, “had to sleep on the din­ing room floor.”

In March No­mala got a call telling her the key to her new home, do­nated by Gift of the Givers, was ready.

Gift of the Givers built and fur­nished 103 homes for the vic­tims and their fam­i­lies on nearby land do­nated by the city. The city also built a fur­ther 100 new homes.

“I had no idea when I would get a new home,” No­mala said. “They phoned me and told me that day and then I moved in.”

But she was one of the lucky ones who had a fam­ily to turn to in their hour of need.

Tho­bie Longo, who lost his home in the fire, lived in the OR Tambo Com­mu­nity Hall for five months along with hun- dreds of other peo­ple.

“There is no pri­vacy at this place,” Longo said.

“If you are lucky you got a mattress, but some had to sleep on the floor with a blan­ket. I didn’t like it but I didn’t have a choice.”

Longo was on his way to work when the fire started.

“It was just a jum­ble – you couldn’t point to where my house was,” he said.

He was so busy sort­ing out cloth­ing and shel­ter for his fam­ily in the af­ter­math of the dis­as­ter that he stayed away from work, which re­sulted in him be­ing fired.

In May Longo got a new home from Gift of the Givers, who em­ployed him dur­ing its build­ing, but said he was strug­gling to se­cure per­ma­nent em­ploy­ment.

Another per­son who lost ev­ery­thing in the fire, Lion Makunzi, had to send his wife and chil­dren to stay with fam­ily in the East­ern Cape while he con­tin­ued work­ing in Cape Town. And he has not seen them since.

Gawa Sayed, project man­ager at Gift of the Givers, said her team had worked day and night to get a roof over the heads of the af­fected fam­i­lies, but it took time to build proper homes.

“I felt bad go­ing home and ly­ing in my com­fort­able bed,” she re­called.

“What about the old lady who has to sleep on the floor in the hall?”

But she adds that, sad as it is, deal­ing with shack fires is a norm for peo­ple forced to live this way.

JP Smith, mayoral mem­ber for safety and se­cu­rity, said they had run an av­er­age of two fire safety aware­ness ses­sions per day this year, and had tried to teach com­mu­ni­ties how to pre­vent th­ese cat­a­strophic fires as well as what to do when a blaze oc­cured.

How­ever, fires con­tinue to oc­cur.

The city, he said, had in­vested R290 mil­lion this year in 20 new fire en­gines, five new fire sta­tions, and al­most dou­bled the staff from 480 to 900.

De­spite this progress, Fire and Res­cue spokesman Theo Layne said they still strug­gled with peo­ple build­ing near fire hy­drants and block­ing ac­cess routes.

“The prob­lem is polic­ing be­cause peo­ple will lit­er­ally put up shacks overnight, re­block­ing ar­eas,” he said.

“The sad part is that the city can’t pre­vent fires, we can only put them out,” Smith said.

paige.suther­land@inl.co.za

PIC­TURES: LEON LESTRADE

DEV­AS­TATED: Fire vic­tim Irene No­mala in her new home. She was on hol­i­day in Queen­stown when she got the heart­break­ing call from her hus­band, telling her that ev­ery­thing she owned was gone, and that the cou­ple, their son and their grand­son, were home­less.

SAFE HAVEN: Thobile Longo, who lost his home in the fire, lost his job af­ter stay­ing away from work. He says he got a new home, but is still strug­gling to find work.

HOME TURF: Fam­i­lies out­side the houses built for them by Gift of the Givers af­ter los­ing their homes in the New Year’s Day fire at the start of 2013.

NEW HOPE: Gift of the Givers built and fur­nished 103 homes for the vic­tims and their fam­i­lies on nearby land do­nated by the city. The city built a fur­ther 100 homes.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.