Avule Gule woke in the early hours of Monday morning to find flames licking at the shacks next to her home in Dunoon.
She leapt up and fled. There wasn’t even time for her to grab her ID, cellphone or clothes.
“The fire felt very hot, and I just had to get away,” she said, standing next to the charred remains of the tiny shack she had shared with her brother, Wanda Luyenge.
The ruins of her home lie off one of the warren of lanes where, in total, 44 shacks were destroyed, leaving 145 people homeless. Many lost their sparse possessions.
The Siyahlahla settlement, where the fire took place, is densely populated, with shacks not more than a metre apart.
So when one catches fire, the flames can spread within seconds, not minutes, to others.
By the time Tabletalk reached the area, eight hours after Ms Gulu fled her home at 2.30am, people were already hard at work, clearing blackened debris and rebuilding with galvanised-iron sheeting.
Community leader Toko Xamlashe said there would be no end in sight to the fires unless something was done about installing electricity.
Disaster Risk Management spokeswoman Charlotte Powell said the cause of the fire was still unknown.
Nokwande Duinwa earns R3 000 a month and doesn’t know how she’s going to replace everything she lost in the blaze.
She was wearing clothes borrowed from a neighbour whose home escaped the fire and her six-year-old son was still wearing clothes from the night before. She had not managed to salvage anything.
“My son woke me up at around 3am because he heard screams. When I looked outside the window, I saw the fire and it was approaching my house.
“We ran to save our lives and lost everything that was inside.”
She was supposed to be at work yesterday but called her employer to say she wouldn’t make it.
“I don’t know where I’m going to start, or what I’m going to buy first. This is also a difficult month, January, and I have not been paid yet.”
Jessney Marumo, a two-year-old toddler, walked around barefoot over the spot where the house he had lived in was burnt to the ground and his mother, Justine Kruger, seemed too dazed to talk.
An NGO the City works with, Historical Disadvantaged Individuals, handed out blankets and porridge to the residents.
Ms Xamlashe said that since September last year there had been a fire every month in the area. She said residents did not have access to electricity and that fuelled the risk of fire.
“People have no choice but to cook outside on open fires and light candles to see at night when it’s dark.
“We can’t say what exactly caused this fire, but it’s likely that it was one of those things,” Ms Xamlashe added.
Councillor for Ward 104 Lubabalo Makeleni told Tabletalk, “Most of the fires that are happening are a cause of human error. But because of human error it is very difficult for us to say that the area burnt down because there was no electricity. Other areas where fires have occured in Dunoon include Doornbach and Site 5, so the argument that the area burnt down due to lack of electricity holds no water.
“But we do blame Transnet and the City of Cape Town … that the area is not electrified and the other issues that are facing the community of Siyahlahla.”