Fire ravages the ‘Vlei’

A fire ripped through the Vygieskraal informal settlement better known as the Vlei last Monday.

Relief continues to pour in for over 800 victims of a fire which broke out in the Vygieskraal informal settlement, better known as the “Vlei”, last week, and claimed the life of a toddler.

The fire which took more than eight hours to extinguish, ripped through the shacks, wendy houses, and brick houses at about 2pm on Monday October 21, killing an adult male and a 3-year-old boy.

The cause of the fire is still unknown, said Jermaine Carelse, spokesman for the City of Cape Town’s fire services.

Gerhardus Devries Dock, Dean of the Western Cape circuit of
the Lutheran Church, said it is believed children had been playing in a shack at the southern part of the back of the settlement where the fire started. They had apparently locked the door and the fire broke out in the shack.

The children were unable to get out and the three-year-old boy died as well as the man who tried to help them get out of the shack.

“Everyone noticed that something was burning. We immediately called the fire brigade who came around 3pm and battled to hose down the fire. By that time the fire spread to the entire Vlei,” he said.

Residents had taken refuge at the houses of family members and some at the Lutheran Church in Belgravia and others at the Seventh Day Adventist Church, said Mr Devries Dock.

Relief efforts poured in from the Monday evening, with people donating pots of food and soup and others clothing and toiletries. Nakhlistan and Gift of the Givers also dished out food, blankets and clothing, said Aziza Kannemeyer, chairperson of the Athlone Community Police Forum.

Disgruntled residents took to the streets on Wednesday October 23 as they protested in Klipfontein Road for material to rebuild their homes which was supposed to have been supplied by the City of Cape Town. By Thursday October 24, Mr Devries Dock said residents had still not received the starter kits to rebuild their homes.

Charlotte Powell, spokeswoman for the City’s public awareness and preparedness, disaster risk management centre, said starter kits were to be given to residents but when the team arrived on site they realised that the entire structure of the informal settlement needed to be re-looked at to prevent a recurring fire.

“Residents understand why the starter kits had not been issued and they understand and agree with the City after we had engaged with them. They will be given alternative accommodation from Friday October 25,” she said.

On Thursday October 24, Sheikh Haashim Peck, programme manager at non-profit organisation Muslim Hands and his team distributed 800 parcels of food to victims of the fire. He said the organisation would also be looking at further relief assistance, including the possible distribution of blankets and clothing.

An interfaith open-air prayer meeting was also held at the settlment on Tuesday October 22, where people from different faiths prayed for those who died in the fire.

Ms Powell said humanitarian relief organisation, Gift of the Givers, provided meals, water, blankets, clothing, shoes, stationery, cooking and eating utensils and mattresses to residents while the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) provided relief as well.

Mr Devries Dock who is also the resident pastor of the Athlone congregation, said the church was providing counselling services to those in need. “We also call on all other organisations to assist us, not only with donating items but with their presence and counselling for the victims of the fire.”