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Hundreds of Durban shack dwellers lose everything in fire

More than 1,000 people were displaced to tents after a fire gutted about 250 shacks in Clairwood, south of Durban, on Friday.
More than 1,000 people were displaced to tents after a fire gutted about 250 shacks in Clairwood, south of Durban, on Friday.
Image: Sakhiseni NXumalo

Pupils were unable to attend school on Monday after their school uniforms were burnt during a fire that razed 250 shacks in a Clairwood informal settlement, south of Durban.

More than 1,000 people were temporarily housed in tents after they lost everything in the blaze on Friday.

On Monday morning TimesLIVE visited the area where residents were congested in tents while some were salvaging whatever they could find.

Resident Siphesihle Ndaba, 41, said he lost everything and only escaped with a few clothes and one blanket. Ndaba said he could not save important documents, including IDs and books, for his children.

“I don’t have anything. I couldn’t go to work today because I didn’t have my uniform. It’s worse for my kids. My older son is in grade 4, and all his school uniforms and books caught fire.

"He can’t go to school and is sad because he is missing out. If I had an option, I would have taken them out of this place a long time ago, but times are tough. It is not all the time where I have cents coming in. I don’t know where to start,” said Ndaba, who has been renting a shack for two years.

Siphosethu Malembe, 51, who is a vendor, said she was away when she saw smoke coming from the area. She said she ran towards the settlement and from a distance she could hear people screaming.

“When I got here, people were already standing on the side of the road. My house is deep inside, and I immediately knew there was nothing I could do. The blaze was too big. I don’t have anything, not even food. We are grateful there are people providing us with meals.

“There are people on medication that was burnt. It’s hard for them because it’s been days without medication which they need to survive. No one is staying here by choice. We can’t afford to rent houses or build them because we are unemployed,” said Malembe.

KwaZulu-Natal premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube and MEC for human settlements and public works Sipho Nkosi conducted an on-site assessment of the damage.

The province said the main aim was to understand the impact on the community, express solidarity with affected residents, and co-ordinate efforts for immediate relief and long-term recovery.

It said the government had mobilised resources to provide emergency relief. Shelter, food, and other essential supplies were arranged for displaced residents.

Dube-Ncube said they could only give support once there is identification and the province has started assisting residents, especially those who need IDs.

The second part of support is to identify land where the small community would be relocated as they cannot provide material for them to build in the same place, she said.

“We cannot give them services because it's privately owned land. We can't provide building materials here because we will be doing something illegal,” she said.

“We are grateful to eThekwini municipality for working with law enforcement as they are already visible on the ground, and we need to make sure it's legitimate people who get assistance. Normally when such a tragedy happens, you find a lot of people come and register claiming they are victims.”

Dube-Ncube said they have also established there are a lot of "shack lords”, and almost 90% of people in the area are renting.

The government is working with law enforcement agencies and the community to crack down on people who intimidate tenants, she added.


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