No more shelters for Masi fire victims

The site of the fire in January after it had been cleared. The City hired security guards to ensure there was no rebuilding of shacks.

The City of Cape Town has completed its housing project for Masiphumelele fire victims but many are still without shelters.

In January, the City started building temporary shelters made out of wood and corrugated iron after a fire in December destroyed 1000 homes and left more than 6 000 people homeless.

The temporary structures will be replaced gradually by permanent ones as the City redesigns the area.

To date, the City has completed 851 shelters and the last of the homes were handed over two weeks ago. Some of the homes were built on the site of the fire and others on the Masiphumelele sports fields.

According to mayoral committee member for human settlements, Malusi Booi, the City has assisted all residents who were verified as legitimate fire-affected victims and they have all been allocated their units.

However, there are many who claim they are fire victims who are still homeless.

Bongiswa Pongolo said she had been living in the wetlands area for about four years in her two-bedroom shack. She had taken over the shack from her sister who had lived there for a few years. The shack had not had a number and while she had put her name on a list after the fire, a City official had told her she had to have her photo taken and they would be in contact. However, she never heard from them again.

A community leader had then told her on Wednesday April 14 that no more shelters would be provided by the City.

“That was all information given to me. No reasons and no explanation,” she said.

Ms Pongolo has two children. She sent her daughter to live with her grandmother in the Eastern Cape after the fire, and her young son lives with her at a friend’s house in Masiphumelele.

“The City promised fire victims houses, and now we don’t have a home of our own. If I have been living there for four years, how can they say I’m not a victim of the fire,” she asked.

Community leader Lunga Mathambo said the City had deviated from almost all the decisions that had been taken by both the leadership of Masiphumelele and the other spheres of government involved in the project.

He said the City had accused the community leaders of being corrupt and had appointed “new leadership” to the project.

That, he said, had been done so that the City would not have to be accountable to the community.

“The City has provided homes to residents who were not victims of the fire, and while they lived in Masiphumelele, they were not affected by the fire. The leaders of Masiphumelele are looking at ways and means to make the City account for its actions,” he said.

But Mr Booi said all structures on the wetlands, numbered or not, were unlawful and the verification and allocation process, including numbered and unnumbered houses, had been completed.

“Each case was specifically investigated, on a case by case basis,” he said.

Spokesperson for the provincial Department of Human Settlements, Muneera Allie confirmed that no more housing units would be allocated.

She said the City had embarked on a comprehensive three-phase vetting and investigation process to ensure that all actual fire victims were assisted. That, she said, had entailed surveys during late 2020 and a case-by-case interview and verification process of each beneficiary. The final beneficiary lists had also been made public in various spots in the area for scrutiny by the community. A period of inviting and attending to queries had also been included in the process.

The department, she said, would therefore require additional information on any resident who claimed to be a victim of the fire who had not been assisted in order to investigate such allegations.