Destitute residents rebuild lives after fire ravages 200 homes

The process of rebuilding is under way after a fire engulfed almost 200 shacks at Ga Max informal settlement in Pomona. Most of the residents at the Ekurhuleni informal settlement were left with nothing after the raging fire consumed the little they had.

A devastated Miriam Mabena, who has been living on the plot since 1987, lost a house which was situated among the shacks.

“I lived here with my husband and grandchild, all my children grew up here. I was the first person to live on this plot of land,” said Mabena.

She heard of the fire on her way back home from work and quickly ran to rescue what she could, but was only able to retrieve her and her grandchild’s identity documents.

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Hundreds of people were left destitute in the aftermath of the blaze.

“My house is gone, it’s been here even before the shacks arrived. All my food, my clothes, my important documentation has all gone up in smoke,” she said.

Caswell Ramokome, 26, a construction worker, said he too was alerted to the blaze from friends as he was heading back home.

“I was making my way home and heard of the fire. This has really finished my brother and me. He was supposed to have taken money back home to my parents, now this happens,” said Ramokome.

Sitting in front of the springs of his burnt bed, he said they were both left with nothing – they had to beg from friends at a neighbouring informal settlement for a place to lay their heads.

“It’s the end of the month, we bought groceries thinking that they’d last us for a month. We have to start all over, when the next end of the month will come,” Ramokome said.

Dickson Sibanda, 61, was yesterday removing some of the poles that used to hold together his four shacks. He said he had been living at the settlement for more than nine years.

“There used to be almost four different families that occupied the homes. There were six people who lived here,” he said.

He said that to rebuild would cost him almost R4000 and he survived on a grant so it would take time to rebuild.

Spokesperson for Ekurhuleni Disaster and Emergency Management Services, William Ntladi, said the preliminary investigations from information they received suggested the fire was caused by a gas stove left unmonitored.

“When the person was cooking, the person left the area, leaving with his vehicle. The pot which was left on the stove began burning. This led to the cylinder exploding,” he said.

The fire department arrived after a number of shacks were engulfed by flames.

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“In total, we had about nine fire engines, consisting of three water tanks and six major pumps and 40 firefighters,” he said.

Ntladi said that there was a bit of difficulty containing the fire owing to strong winds.

A person who was trapped in a shack was saved by firefighters.

“One shack during the blaze still had a person trapped inside, the shack was burning but through our efforts we rescued the person. There are currently no injuries or casualties,” said Ntladi.

Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina said that the rebuilding process was already under way and affected residents would be housed at community halls around the area to get out of the chilly conditions at night.

“As of last night we’ve provided three community halls around Kempton Park, where some community members slept. We’ll be providing food and we want to make sure people move from the plot,” he said.

He said the city had a programme that dealt with informal settlements where work was already showing positive results.

“Unfortunately, this land is privately owned, there’s no way we can deploy public infrastructure. We’re looking at an alternative where the residents will be relocated,” he said.

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