Shack re-organisation needed to prevent more fires

By Jack Bloom MPL DA Gauteng Shadow Health MEC:

Shack settlements need to be re-ordered with better spacing in order to prevent devastating shack fires such as that which occurred this past weekend at the Mangolongolo informal settlement in Denver in east Johannesburg.

This is my conclusion after I visited Manolongolo with DA councillor Victor Penning after yet another fire in which more than 60 shacks were burnt down, displacing 115 adults and an unknown number of children.

Something more needs to be done to prevent more fires as I remember visiting in April last year when shacks were burnt in exactly the same part of the settlement.

7518 shacks have burnt down in fires in Gauteng in the last three years, including 2246 in Johannesburg.

There is a sad record of fires at Mangolongolo as follows:

  • September 2010 – more than 250 shacks burnt in two separate fires, with four deaths
  • April 2014 – 44 shacks burnt
  • November 2014 – 50 shacks burnt

The city council and disaster management provide very little assistance, only food and blankets.

This settlement is interesting because parts of it have solid brick houses built by the residents themselves. The vulnerable section is where wood and zinc are used for shacks.

People were busy constructing new shacks when we visited (photos available on request), but the problem is that it is too crowded, which is why fires spread so rapidly and disastrously.

My view is that the council needs to sit down with residents and re-order the settlement so that there are fire-breaks and larger spaces between the shacks.

Piped water needs to be made more available and dangerous paraffin stoves replaced with safe methanol stoves. Solar lights should replace candles.

This settlement is built on Transnet railway land. It should be formalised and a limit on new entrants imposed in consultation with the residents.

Ignoring the problem of settlements such as Mangolongolo just makes things worse.

The key problem is that when one shack burns, it spreads very rapidly, so the re-ordering of shack settlements in consultation with residents is the best solution to mitigate the immense tragedy of shack fires which occur mostly in winter.

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