Informal Settlements Continue To Be Hit By Fires

Fires in informal settlements in Cape Town and Johannesburg highlight the plight of the poor and the urgent need for more proper housing

In the week of 9 November, fires destroyed hundreds of homes in informal settlements in Hout Bay in Cape Town, in Kya Sands north of Johannesburg and in Cleveland, east of the Joburg CBD. These fires, generally caused by accidents with paraffin or gas stoves or candles because of a lack of electricity in these communities, are difficult to control once started because of the closeness of the shacks to one another in these unplanned settlements and because, even if fire trucks get there in reasonable time from distant fire stations, it is difficult for them to manoeuvre in between the shacks.

In all of these communities, residents are now homeless, with many having lost their belongings and critical documents such as IDs. Learners, some of whom are already writing end of year exams, have lost their books and their uniforms.

Government's housing strategy, plagued by a range of problems, including poor location of RDP settlements, shoddy work, incomplete projects, tender fraud and more, is simply not working. It is not keeping up with the pace of demand, which results in the established of even more informal settlements by desperate people, and the cycle of problems simply continues. There is simply not enough attention being paid to this issue - it is a crisis and it needs to be treated as one, with appropriate strategies for dealing with it. Instead it is just business as usual, with some housing departments forfeiting their housing grants because they are not spending them.

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