A late evening fire has destroyed about 300 shacks in Joe Slovo Informal Settlement in Langa, Cape Town on Saturday, rendering about 1,200 people homeless.
Mayco Member JP Smith said the cause of the fire is unknown but the fire was finally contained around midnight.
Government authorities and some NGOs reached the location in good time to assist affected residents. Although clothing, furniture, food and important documents have been lost, no injuries or fatalities have been reported.
A shack dweller known as Xoliswa Maqonga said she and other shack dwellers frantically collected water from a nearby stream to battle the fire as they have no running water.
“We formed a line from the stream to the burning shacks, collected water and passed buckets from one resident to another,” she said.
Maqonga said a strong wind fanned the fire and the shacks burned easily because they were covered with plastic sheets and made mostly of wooden boards.
“We struggled to walk through the mud beside the stream and between the shacks while carrying buckets of water,” she said.
The fire also destroyed communal toilets. Maqonga said she joined a local stokvel about a year ago to raise money to buy her furniture and build her shack in which she stayed with her boyfriend.
Sibusiso Bhatala said the fire started in a closed, uninhabited shack at about 5pm. He described how he and others tried, unsuccessfully, to stop the fire spreading to other shacks.
Bhatala said firefighters arrived early but started to fight the fire too late.
But Smith, in a voice message to the media, accused “individuals” of hampering the firefighting effort by “cutting several fire hoses”.
Ward Councillor Thembelani Nyamakazi responded: “I didn’t see anyone obstructing the firefighters. I doubt residents could do that.”
But Nyamakazi said vehicles could not access the area because shacks had encroached on space meant for vehicles.
Ali Sablay of Gift of the Givers said the organisation was providing fire victims with hot, nutritious food, water, blankets and baby packs.
“We will be here for the next four to five days and offer counselling to the fire victims,” he said.
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