Rugby family left in the lurch

The ceiling collapsed on an area where Rachel Coetzees bed was.

A Rugby family have accused the Department of Human Settlements of being a lousy landlord by taking more than a month to fix their fire-gutted flat and leaving them in the lurch.

The three-bedroom rental unit in Pixie Street, which is owned by the province, caught fire on Saturday morning, March 31. The fire department says an electrical short circuit was likely to blame.

According to Rachel Coetzee, 62, the fire started when a neighbour’s TV exploded. It gutted that flat and spread quickly next door to the second-storey unit she shares with her husband, Marius, 59, and daughters, Natasha, 34, and Maruschka, 20.

Tabletalk visited the flat last week Wednesday and there was no sign of any attempts to repair it more than a month down the line — everything is covered in soot including the kitchen sink and bathtub and the stench of burnt debris still hangs heavily in the air.

The ceiling collapsed on Ms Coetzee’s bed during the fire — luckily for her she had risen early that fateful morning.

“I recently came from a trip in Port Elizabeth and hadn’t unpacked some of my clothes. That is how they survived from being covered in soot and fumes from the fire,” she said.

Ms Coetzee said that after the fire she and her daughters had moved to temporary accommodation in Plumstead. Her husband had meanwhile stayed behind to look after the family’s dogs, roughing it in a wendy house storage shed.

“We were grateful for the fact that we were given a place to stay but it was more trouble than anything. The place is tiny and far from public transport. My eldest daughter is three months pregnant and she and my youngest, who is 20, would have to walk about 20 to 30 minutes to get transport. It was a very dangerous situation,” she said.

The conditions in Plumstead, she added, had become so uncomfortable — taps hadn’t worked, there was too little water and it had been hard getting the department to do anything about it — that after a month the family had had a second Wendy house built next to the first, and Ms Coetzee and her daughters moved in there.

They have been living like this for about two weeks. They have electricity but have to draw water from the bathroom in the fire-gutted flat.

Ntomboxolo Makoba-Somdaka, the spokesperson for the Human Settlements MEC, said they were doing all they could to help the family.

“An official from the Department of Human Settlements was alerted by the tenant about the fire on the afternoon of 31 March and immediately contacted emergency services and a contractor to assess the damage on the scene. It was established on site that the best option was to relocate the two affected families to an alternative accommodation which was available in Plumstead,” said Ms Somdaka.

On Monday April 2 another official had assessed the damage. And more officials had visited the day after that to see what repairs would be needed. Ms Somdaka said the department was now busy with a “procurement process” to get someone to do the repairs.

Natasha Coetzee said the fire had caused them financial hardship because they had had to replace clothes, bedding, cutlery and other personal belongings.

“I have had the toughest time dealing with a new pregnancy as well,” she said. “This has indeed been a stress on my unborn child, and I feel that the department could have done more to assist us as a family, as our home burning down was a traumatic experience for us all and they offered no counselling whatsoever considering the fact that the fire was not our fault at all, and we were mere victims of this entire situation.”

Natasha said she had developed a kidney infection while living in the Plumstead house and had to be hospitalised and her parents’ health had also suffered.

“Both my mother’s and father’s health has been affected by this ordeal, which is causing them much strain. I cannot express the utter disappointment I feel towards this department and their lack of professionalism is astounding.”