Four die in devastating shack fires in East Johannesburg

Jack Bloom MPL

DA Johannesburg East Constituency Head

Two devastating fires destroyed more than 400 shacks in east Johannesburg on Sunday, killing three adults and a child.

The deaths occurred at the Platform Five settlement next to the railway line in Jeppe.

When visiting the site, I saw a tragic scene as a body was loaded into a mortuary van and people set about rebuilding more than 250 burnt shacks.

Residents told me that the fire was started by a drunk man who lit a fire that spread amongst the tightly packed shacks.

This is the third fire at Platform Five in four years, following fires in 2010 and 2012.

I also visited the nearby informal settlement at the George Goch hostel in Benrose, where about 200 shacks were destroyed following a fire allegedly started by a man who burnt down the shack of someone who had robbed him.

Other shack fires in Johannesburg this year include the following:

  • In February, a fire destroyed 200 shacks in Midrand.
  • In April, 40 shacks burnt down in a Denver informal settlement
  • A family was engulfed in a shack fire in Vlakfontein, Lenasia, on the 3rd of June where three children and a woman were killed in the blaze.
  • Sixty-nine shacks were destroyed and 350 people  were displaced when a fire broke out in Marlboro on 10th June.
  • A man died after eight shacks caught fire in the Zamimpilo informal settlement near Riverlea in west Johannesburg.
  • In June, 80 shacks burnt down in the Jumpers informal settlement in Cleveland in east Johannesburg.

Victims of shack fires in Johannesburg get little assistance, unlike Cape Town where shack materials are provided by the city council.

I have written to Gauteng Premier David Makhura to consider emergency housing kits in Gauteng, where more than 1000 shacks burn down every year.

The fires in Johannesburg have left more than 1000 people homeless. The tragedy is that fires spread rapidly in densely packed settlements.

It’s depressing that poor people lose everything they have in frequent shack fires that could be prevented.

Fire departments should insist on preventative measures in informal settlements, including fire breaks.