Fire victims battle to rebuild

Sarah Pienaar and her four-year-old daughter, Precious, were left homeless when a fire destroyed their home in Hadji Ebrahim informal settlement.

Victims of a fire that swept through a Belgravia informal settlement last Thursday are struggling to rebuild in the wet and the cold.

The fire at the Hadji Ebrahim settlement started just after 1am. It destroyed eight shacks and left 30 people homeless.

Farieda Alexander said she and her child had escaped the blaze with only the clothes they were wearing.

Ms Alexander and others were sifting through the debris for salvageable building materials when the Athlone News visited the area last Friday. Her neighbour, Deon Dwili, was helping her to rebuild.

“We have not really been able to sleep since the fire broke out. I could only stand around a fire with my son, Mohammed, who is only 19 months old, to help keep us warm. We don’t have shoes or anything. We lost everything,” she said.

Mr Dwili said: “This is bad for us. My wife and I and our two children woke up to the fire. We also lost everything. We are trying to rebuild what we can with some of the material we found in the debris. The weather and the fact that the City of Cape Town no longer gives building materials make it even more difficult for us to rebuild our homes.The last two nights we had to sleep outside.”

Sarah Pienaar, a single mother, said she had been sleeping when the fire broke out.

“My cousin woke me. I could only grab my four-year-old daughter, Precious, and a few of our clothes. We are now sleeping at our neighbours’ place. It’s difficult for me because I don’t get a grant, as all my documents were destroyed in a previous fire. I sometimes get a domestic-worker job for the day, but that is only about R60 I earn at a time. We desperately need food, and clothes for my daughter,” she said.

Ward 48 councillor Magedien Davids said he had written to mayor Dan Plato to ask for assistance.

“The difficulty is that the informal settlement is built on private property. The City also no longer provides ‘starter packs’ (building material). I am doing all I can to help, but it is not easy,” Mr Davids said.

Community worker Imam Salie Davids said he had also tried to help the community, but the level-4 lockdown restrictions made that more difficult.

“It is so sad. Small children are sitting outside in the cold. With the lockdown restrictions, they are not even allowed to move to a community hall. Another challenge is that the heavy rain also results in the flooding of the Vygieskraal canal, and this, in turn, causes flooding in the homes.”

The City’s Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Jermaine Carelse said the Epping, Wynberg, Ottery, Goodwood and Mitchell’s Plain fire crews had extinguished the fire by 2.30am. He could not confirm residents’ claims that a toppled candled had caused the fire.

Deon Dwili tries to rebuild.
Residents scratch through the debris to salvage building materials.