Building materials are prime need for shack fire victims

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

Building materials are the prime need for victims of the four major shack fires (Msawawa, Alexandra, Zandspruit and Jumpers) that have taken place in Johannesburg in the past few days.

This morning I was at the Jumpers informal settlement in Cleveland in east Johannesburg where 150 shacks burnt down yesterday morning.

Disaster Management services have set up 56 tents, and Red Cross, Gift of the Givers and Shoprite have assisted with food and blankets.

But the major need is for building materials so that shacks can be rebuilt as soon as possible.

Gauteng Human Settlements MEC Jacob Mamabolo promised building materials for the victims of the 200 shacks burnt down at Msawawa at Kyasands, but never supplied them.

I was told by a Gift of the Givers volunteer that tents supplied at Msawawa were mostly unused because employers provided materials to their employees to rebuild their shacks.

He compared this to a shack fire at Hout Bay in Cape Town on Friday where Gift of the Givers did not need to assist because the city council supplies emergency shack housing kits.

Johannesburg council has sometimes used the Red Ants to supply materials, but is slow to react when the need is most acute immediately after a fire.

I hope that emergency shack housing kits replace tents as the preferred response in Johannesburg.

The recent spate of shack fires also highlights the dire need to do more to prevent further shack fires which happen with depressing frequency.

Jumpers has suffered the following shack fires:

  • June 2012 – 100 shacks burnt;
  • May 2013 – 13 shacks burnt;
  • October 2013 – 180 shacks burnt; and
  • June 2014 – 80 shacks burnt.

It is extremely important that there is proper spacing between shacks, otherwise a single burning shack can spread and destroy an entire settlement.

Other measures include replacement of dangerous paraffin stoves and candles with methanol stoves and solar lights.

A higher priority needs to be given to preventing the immense tragedy of recurrent shack fires where lives are lost and very poor people lose everything they have.