Dunoon fire victims threaten to occupy land

Gift of the Givers gave humanitarian aid to victims of the fire that broke out in Dunoon on Friday December 30.

Dunoon residents say they will continue to occupy vacant land in the area if the authorities fail to heed repeated calls for housing.

This comes after a fire swept through the Usasaza Street informal settlement just two days before New Year’s Day, destroying 106 shacks that were home to more than 200 people.

The blaze broke out just before noon on Friday December 30, according to mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith.

No deaths were recorded but two firefighters were injured, one with minor burns that were treated at the scene while the other needed to be transported for medical care, he said.

More than 60 firefighters from Milnerton fire station battled the blaze, while City Law Enforcement officers were needed to control the crowds, he said.

“Firefighting efforts were severely hampered by the structures built up closely to each other and many of which were double stories, making it difficult for fire vehicles to manoeuvre as the space was congested.”

Disaster Risk Management spokeswoman Charlotte Powell said Gift of the Givers and the South African Social Security Agency had given aid to the 233 left homeless by the fire.

Gift of the Givers had handed out hot meals, bottles of water, blankets, mattresses, toiletries and baby-care packs to the fire victims, said its spokesman, Ali Sablay.

It was sad to see the fire victims sitting along the street, clutching the belongings they had salvaged, and later in the day, people returning from work had wept as they had found their homes destroyed, he said.

“We witnessed a woman throwing herself on the hot debris and crying uncontrollably because she came back to nothing.”

Community activist Ncahness Ndabezimbi took to social media and encouraged people not to rebuild their shacks along Usasaza Street, to prevent further fires, and instead find other pockets of land to occupy.

Mr Ndabezimbi told Tabletalk that the settlement – established in 2018 by those who had waited several years for houses – was vulnerable to fire because homes were built too close to one another.

The battle for housing in Dunoon needed to come to an end, he said.

In April 2017, he said, he had been among the hundreds of residents who had handed a memorandum to the City, calling on it to build houses or mark demarcation lines for people to build their own homes in Dunoon.

“The City ignored the memorandum, and people started putting up their shacks on various plots in the area.”

Mr Ndabezimbi said the fire victims should rebuild elsewhere in Dunoon, away from other shacks, to prevent fires from spreading.

He said he had sent many requests to the City to provide land with basic services but he had received no response.

Another Usasaza Street resident, Nonkhu “Nonnie” Zwane, said the fire victims were planning a move to open pockets of land in the community and she feared that might interfere with the relocation of 1500 families to their homes at the Racing Park business centre project, planned for 2024 (“Dunoon housing on track for 2024,” Tabletalk, June 29, 2022).

People had grown tired of the promises made by the City and had started making a life for themselves, she said, adding that the fire victims had lost everything.

“Some parents have started buying stationery and school supplies and even that burned.”

Muneera Allie, a spokeswoman for Human Settlements MEC Tertius Simmers, said the community and beneficiaries of the Racing Park housing project had been kept informed from the beginning and knew the project was still on track.

The Department of Human Settlements had held a community meeting at the end of November last year to give an update on the project, she said.

Additional security measures had been put in place ahead of the festive season to prevent invasion and illegal occupation, she said.

“The department has also called upon community members to assist by being vigilant and reporting any potential illegal invasions.”

A fire destroyed 106 shacks – the homes of more than 200 people – at the Usasaza Street settlement late last year.