Two years of empty promises, says fire victim

Nowandile Matolo now lives in a shack after her home burnt down two years ago.

A Joe Slovo grandmother says promises the municipality made to her to rebuild her house after a fire destroyed it two years ago have not been kept.

Nowandile Matolo, 68, says that on Tuesday April 9, 2019, a fire that broke out at the nearby Mshini Wam informal settlement in Joe Slovo burnt her RDP house down.

Tabletalk reported on the fire and at the time. The City Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Jermaine Carelse said one formal house and six backyard structures had been completely destroyed (“Joe Slovo residents left destitute after fire,” Tabletalk, April 17, 2019).

“I was alone in the house at the time. I went outside in just my gown and no shoes on. Luckily, my grandchildren weren’t with me that evening – they were with their mother in a nearby street. I told them there were shacks on fire and my house also caught alight,” Ms Matolo said.

Her son, who also lost his shack in the fire, dashed inside her burning home to grab her purse with her ID in.

“By July, I had built a small shack on my property and was living in it when a few neighbours advised that I should go to the municipality and tell them my story and see if I can get help,” Ms Matolo said.

“I explained my circumstances to them. A few days later, a City official came to do an inspection of the damage and made photocopies of my ID. By October of that year, the City official told me that my request had been rejected. But by the end of the year, he told me that it was approved and that construction would begin in February 2020,” she said.

But then she had heard one excuse after another from the City, she said, including that municipal projects had been delayed because of Covid-19. She said she had heard nothing further from the City since June last year and had been ready to give up.

Malusi Booi, the mayoral committee member for human settlements, said it was not City policy to repair or rebuild people’s houses if they were damaged. Rather, it was every homeowner’s responsibility to insure their houses against damage.

“When we were informed of the fire incident that destroyed the house, officials did an assessment of the damage and compiled a funding application to rebuild the house. The homeowner was informed that the application may or may not be approved pending the availability of finances,” he said.

Mzimkhulu Sopeni, a Joe Slovo community leader, was on the scene after the fire in 2019 and was the driving force behind trying to get the City’s Disaster Risk Management Centre to get materials for people to rebuild their shacks.

“Nothing has been done by the City to help out this old woman though,” he said. “The City has made her a lot of empty promises. It’s sad to see that she has gone back to living in those conditions after she had a better living space. Now she had to start from scratch. Even our councillor is nowhere to be found because he is supposed to act on such situations and show reliability.”

This is the third winter that the grandmother of two will spend in her shack.

She said she had built it as a temporary shelter, so it had no insulation and did not cover her whole property.

Ms Matolo paid nearly R2 500 to the City of Cape Town for a replacement electricity meter in mid April, but she still sits without electricity.

Ms Matolo said she also had no electricity, despite paying an independent contractor R250 in September last year as a deposit to install a new prepaid meter in her shack.

“He went silent for months until this year in April when he told me to contact the City of Cape Town. On April 14, the City told me to pay R2419, 90 for a replacement meter. I paid all of that and I’m still waiting with no electricity in my shack. I feel helpless.”

Mr Booi said he couldn’t say when the electricity meter would be installed as it depended on available resources. “However,” he added, “funds have been made available for the house to be rebuilt before the end of June 2021, if all goes according to plan.”