Inadequate response to Denver shack fire

By Jack Bloom MPL, DA Gauteng Constituency Head – Joburg East:

I am hugely disappointed by the inadequate response of the city council and disaster management to the devastating shack fire that took place at the Mangolongolo informal settlement in Denver in east Johannesburg on Wednesday (16 September) this week.

It was initially reported that 50 shacks had burnt down, but I discovered when I visited there yesterday that 169 shacks were destroyed, displacing 330 people.

Fire engines battled the fire for more than two hours in the afternoon, but were unable to prevent massive destruction.

Residents told me that all they got from the city council was a blanket and a loaf of bread. Disaster management personnel said that they also gave soup in the morning.

But the prime need is material to rebuild shacks. People were using burnt iron sheets and wood and cardboard that they managed to scavenge.

I met Andries Dlamini (32) who was left with only the clothes he was wearing. He had to sleep in the remains of a burnt-out kombi (photos available on request).

The Red Ants have been used by the city council to assist in rebuilding shacks, but I was told that this would not happen this time because of lack of funds.

I have proposed a motion in the Gauteng Legislature for better assistance to the victims of shack fires, which have burnt 7513 shacks in the last three years in Gauteng.

It was debated yesterday, but Human Settlements MEC Jacob Mamabolo insisted that present arrangements were adequate.

My proposal is that emergency housing kits be provided as is done by the City of Cape Town. This includes zinc sheets, wood, plastic and nails to rebuild build shacks.

Better fire prevention is also needed, particularly spacing between shacks and alternatives to candles and paraffin stoves that cause many fires (it appears that the Mangolongolo fire was caused by a paraffin stove).

More than 60 shacks were burnt in Mangolongolo in July this year, and other fires there have been as follows:

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

The council needs to consult with residents and re-order the settlement so that there are fire-breaks and larger spaces between the shacks.

Far more needs to be done to prevent fires and to assist victims of shack fires in a meaningful way, which should include provision of building materials.