30 years worth of work, memories up in smoke

Mirriam Mabena, 56, has lost everything in a fire that razed her house and those of 200 others in Pomona informal settlement, Kempton Park, leaving them homeless. /Thulani Mbele
Mirriam Mabena, 56, has lost everything in a fire that razed her house and those of 200 others in Pomona informal settlement, Kempton Park, leaving them homeless. /Thulani Mbele

A devastating fire has wiped out more than 30 years of her family's memories for a 56-year-old woman.

Mirriam Mabena and her family lost their home when a fire burnt down plot 103 on Great North Road in Pomona informal settlement on the East Rand.

More than 200 shacks were razed to the ground on Monday night in the settlement in Kempton Park, leaving more than 800 people homeless.

Residents yesterday desperately searched for any belongings they could find in the
ashes.

Mabena, who was given the house by her former employer, said she and her family were the first to stay on the plot in the three-bedroom house.

"I've been working as a domestic worker and living in this home for 32 years. My children and my grandchildren were born and raised here."

Mabena said others moved into the area because it was closer to their workplaces.

"They all found us here and we had no problem with them erecting shacks on the land because we understood that people came to stay here to be closer to their jobs. Most people in the area work as domestic workers, gardeners.

"The fire started just after I had come home from work. I heard people scream and I ran out to assist. All the shacks eventually burnt down, including my house because the fire was too wild," said Mabena.

She said she lost her furniture, appliances, and clothing that she received as gifts from her employers.

"I had even bought and boxed valuables that I had hoped to open and use when I got a house of my own because the municipality has been promising to move us to another area and build us RDP houses. The land we occupy is private, and that is why we as residents have refused to move, " she said.

Mabena said she works eight days a month and only earns R600 a month.

"I cannot afford to start over, I'm old now. My only concern is my grandson who is preparing to write his final matric exams. This tragedy has happened at a bad time," she said.

Another resident Paulinah Molefe, 59, who has lived in a shack on the plot for 10 years, said losing everything to the fire has forced her to consider going back home to Groblersdal in Limpopo.

"I have built my life in this plot, but the trauma and shock of escaping death has made me realise I have nothing else to stay for, I have lost everything.

Molefe earns under R2,000 a month from her two jobs as a domestic worker.

Ekurhuleni emergency services spokesperson William Ntladi said no deaths were
reported.

"The fire was allegedly started by a gas cylinder that exploded around 7pm after a resident left a cooking stove unattended. The fire spread to the rest of the shacks causing an uncontrollable blaze," said Ntladi.

Mzwandile Masina, the mayor of Ekurhuleni, said plans to move the residents were under way.

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