Arson could be behind a fire that broke out in Phoenix park, destroying several vagrants’ shelters there, on Sunday night, according to the local ward councillor.
Wandisile Ngeyi says members of the community accused land invaders of starting the fire.
Mr Ngeyi could offer no proof for this claim, but he said there had been failed attempts to occupy the park in the past and then homeless people had started squatting there.
“As far as the vagrants go, we can’t just remove people as they are homeless people. They are different from the land invaders who are just being opportunistic. The land invaders feel that they have a right to that land so they apparently started the fire there because if they can’t be there, then the vagrants shouldn’t be there as well,” he said.
In July last year, Marconi Beam Primary School classrooms and Sinenjongo High School hall were torched during land-invasion unrest.
Mr Ngeyi said the fire at the park had caused electricity to trip in some of the neighbouring homes.
“A C3 notification was logged immediately and the electricity department will be visiting the affected homes to restore the power,” he said. “In terms of the future of the park, it’s ruined now. No one would even say there was a park there. It should just be turned into a trading market for the people of the community.
City Fire and Rescue Services spokesman Jermaine Carelse said there had been four previous fires in the area, but they had no record of the latest one.
“There were four incidents of rubbish and/or vegetation alight in the area this year, specifically on 9 April, 4 March, 24 February and 11 January,” he said.
Residents said there had been about a dozen vagrants’ shacks at the park before the fire, but now there were only two.
However, some believe the fire was more likely caused by the vagrants making fires there.
Graham Lakay, a Phoenix resident for 25 years, said residents had battled to get the authorities to move the park vagrants who had built their shelters up against residents’ boundary walls.
“They have to remove squatters against property boundary walls in Phoenix at the park, that resulted in fire damage more than five times already to properties. We have been appealing to the City for service delivery given the fact we pay rates and taxes for service delivery to uplift standards and conditions. These fires are a result of irresponsible and negligent behaviour from these squatters,” he said.
Ian Neilson, mayoral committee member for finance, said residents who had had their properties damaged could submit claims, with supporting documentation, for compensation to the City. The public liability claim forms are available on the City’s website.