Four thousand inhabitants of Masiphumelele in a desperate hurry…

“We were running. We were running for our lives,” said Nyathi, whose house burned down in a fire that devastated an informal settlement in Masiphumelele, in the southern Cape, on December 17.

Nyathi, who asked to be referred to only by her surname, is one of more than 4,000 people who are now displaced after the blaze, fueled by high winds, which destroyed more than 1,030 homes, said said the city of Cape Town. Daily Maverick. “This fire is devastating. It is something that is almost unimaginable,” said John Thomas of the NGO Living Hope, who provides community development, social and health programs in the region.

Video of Masiphumelele fire taken by Wandile Mdayi on December 17, 2020.

The fire broke out Thursday afternoon around 3 p.m., according to Nokuthula Ngwandi, a resident whose house was among those destroyed by the fire.

Cape Town City Fire and Rescue was alerted to the ‘plume of thick black smoke’ around 4pm, reported Daily Maverick overnight. The Masiphumelele fire was extinguished at 1 a.m. Friday, according to Jermaine Carelse, spokesman for the city’s fire and rescue services. Crews monitor the area for any thrusts. No injuries were reported, Carelse said.

The aftermath: A fire destroyed more than 1,000 huts in Masiphumelele on December 18, 2020 in Cape Town, (Photo: Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)
The cause of the fire in Masiphumelele, Cape Town, is still under investigation. (Photo: Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)

According to Thomas, the fire spread through Section B, which is quite close to the wetlands. The cause of the fire is still unknown, Thomas said.

On Friday, residents gathered where their homes stood, trying to salvage what was left. They are trying to rebuild to have accommodation a week before Christmas.

“People are now trying to rebuild their homes before Christmas,” Nyathi said. According to Nyathi, she and her brother were staying with her mother in another part of Masiphumelele, until their house was rebuilt.

Naythi spoke on behalf of her brother, who asked to remain anonymous as he picked up planks of wood and materials around the rubble, and used a tape measure to map the area where their home once stood.

According to Nyathi, the firefighters came but “they weren’t successful…the fire was out of control”.

Nyathi’s husband was not home when the fire broke out, but she and her children were. “It’s my husband’s house, he wasn’t there…he was at work,” she said.

Sort a wreck

“We have lost everything. We have nothing now,” said Mildred Murandu, standing a few feet from a pile of debris that used to be her home. “So we are trying to rebuild again. There is no other way,” Murandu said, as her neighbor Prince Sithole stood beside her.

Sithole says no one had time to try to salvage his stuff. Everything was destroyed.

Video of Masiphumelele fire bombarded with water taken by Wandile Mdayi on December 17, 2020.

“We just ran away; we are saving our lives,” he said.

Most of the community members had spent Thursday evening in a community hall and would return there Friday evening.

“We think, what are we going to eat? Where are we going to sleep? There is no privacy in the lobby. We have no clothes, nothing,” said Nokuthula Ngwandi, who was at her cousin’s house when the fire broke out.

When Ngwandi returned home, the structure had already burned down.

Ngwandi was not the only one to return home to find everything she had destroyed. Another Masiphumelele resident, Noluvo Thomas, came home from work to find her house in flames.

“I can’t tell you what really happened because I was at work…I just got home to find my house was burned down,” Thomas said.

“We lost everything because we no longer had a chance to see what was to be saved,” she said. “What can I do now? [I] I have no place to sleep, I have nothing.

According to Ngwandi, people pick up what they can find in the wreckage, but even if residents find their belongings, they could be stolen without a safe place to store them. People are helpless and desperate, she says.

“So what’s the use of taking your remaining things?” ” she asked.

Left to right: Mildred Murandu, Hilda Nyandaro and Privilege Hokoza stand together near where their homes once stood. The three women and their families are sleeping in the community hall and will stay there until they finish rebuilding their homes, they told the Daily Maverick. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)
The aftermath of the fire that destroyed homes in Masiphemelele on Thursday, December 17, 2020. (Photo: Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)

Living Hope is asking people to help the situation, according to Thomas. Help is needed in volunteers, clothes, bedding, food, he informed.

“Donations can be dropped off at any time, at Living Hope on Kommetjie Road, opposite Masiphumelele,” he said.

Over the past five years, there have been at least five fires in the Masiphumelele area. In 2019, a fire in the area burned down 100 houses and one person died in section E of the informal settlement. the 2019 the fire was caused by a candle in one of the shacks, according to locals. A fire in 2015 killed of them inhabitants and displaced 4,000 people. DM

For monetary donations to the Living Hope’s Disaster Relief account:
Bank: ETF
Branch: 202309
Account Number: Disaster Call Account
Account number: 62672419267

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