The fear of possible shack fires has become a “way of life” for those residing in the Imizamo Yethu informal settlement in Hout Bay. The area was hit by a devastating fire over Christmas weekend which destroyed more than 500 shacks, leaving 1 dead and over 1000 homeless. The blaze marks the second to hit the settlement in the last six weeks, and the third since August.
Imizamo Yethu has a history of fire breakouts, especially over the summer months. Hout Bay ward councillor, Bheki Hadebe said such incidents have consistently left residents traumatised.
“It is devastating to be affected by fire, even more so when it happens during the time when you are supposed to be on holiday, enjoying a break with family during the festive season,” he declared.
Hadebe said surveys painted a picture of an area severely overpopulated and poorly structured, with over 4000 families in dire need of proper housing. The settlement itself is built in a manner that leaves little space between homes. It is also situated on a steep slope, which has increased the risks for those living there.
“What is needed is for people to be relocated somewhere else. The challenge that we had previously is that people are not willing to move. This time around they are saying they have had enough and are now willing to move anywhere they will be safe, because they cannot continue living like this,” he stated.
Mayco member for Human Settlements, Councillor Benedicta van Minnen said the City of Cape Town was working hard to combat the reality of shack fires, but at the same time were determined to tackle the roots of the problem in overcrowding, not just in Hout Bay but across the city.
“We are looking at new (housing) units and as well as more housing opportunities,” she assured.
Van Minnen said the City were aware of the residents of Imizamo Yethu willingness to relocate, although land availability was somewhat of an issue and suitable land was “at a premium”.
“When one looks at decanting people to other areas, you already have other people living there who have expectations regarding land. Really it comes down to balancing out how one integrates communities in various parts of the city,” she explained.
While assuring that the City had identified sites in which to relocate the displaced, Van Minnen was unable to provide any assurances on a date of relocation.
The City of Cape Town has a list of 241 families that have been affected by the fire, all of whom will receive ‘enhanced emergency kits’. This will be sufficient to build a basic temporary housing structure. In addition, community halls have been opened to affected families as a temporary shelter, while three meals are distributed daily. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)