The shack dwellers movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, has called on local authorities to expropriate land from so-called rich landowners such as Tongaat-Hulett to house the poor.
Speaking at a Diakonia Council of Churches lecture in Durban on Friday, the organisation's chairman, Sbu Zikode, said they were concerned about the plight of shack dwellers, particularly their safety.
Apart from the fires, he said, shack dwellers were increasingly subject to "illegal evictions, abuse and beatings from landowners including farmers".
He said it was important for the government to understand that when people have to be moved they must be given the option of moving to well-located land.
"Land must be expropriated from Tongaat-Hullett to house the poor. There must be no more forced removals."
He said the right to land and housing remained huge problems in South Africa.
"These problems are not technical, they are political," he said. "They will not be solved by consultants' reports, academic conferences and meetings with the MEC.
"These problems will be solved when people who do not count in the system, the people who have no proper accommodation, are able to stand up and take their place and be counted as citizens of the country."
He warned that the shack dwellers were fed up.
"We will no longer be good boys and girls that quietly wait for our humanity to be recognised one day. Voting has not worked for us. We have already taken our place on the land in the cities and we have held that ground."
He said growing poverty in rural communities encouraged young people to migrate to the cities.
"So as long as the cities grow in the same way as poverty, urbanisation is not an exception," Zikode said. "People will have to keep moving to the cities in search of hope.
"This reality calls on all city authorities to learn to share the cities and to accept this growth. We need democratic cities. We need fair cities. We need welcoming cities. We need cities for all."
He said shack dwellers needed to be part of any solution regarding their future.
"If you take people out of their communities, sometimes at gunpoint, and move them to rural human dumping grounds where there is no work, they won't stay there."
Shack dwellers believe that land and housing in the cities will bring about a safer environment.
"An environment that is free from shack fires, free from rats, rapes and crime when our children and women have to find water and toilets in the bushes.
"If we are serious about caring cities, the first step will be to respect human life and human dignity."