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Marshalltown fire victims relocated to ‘unsafe’ industrial area in Denver

Metro defends shantytown with no services as ‘temporary’

Koena Mashale Journalist
Contractors building Shacks for the victims of fire in a building in Marshal town were about 73 people were killed early this year in Johannesburg.
Contractors building Shacks for the victims of fire in a building in Marshal town were about 73 people were killed early this year in Johannesburg.

The City of Johannesburg has defended its decision to relocate victims of the Marshalltown fire to tin shack settlement that has no electricity where residents are forced to share a single communal tap and toilets.

Small shiny shacks built by the city are on open ground meant to keep impounded cars.

The families were hastily relocated by city officials, including the police, from the Hofland Park  Recreation Centre in Bez Valley on Tuesday and were trucked to an industrial area in Denver, where they were put in shacks recently built by the city to accommodate them.  

At least about 50 shacks were lined up in rows close to one another and more were in the process of being erected.  Residents complained that they did not have basic services. 

Zamantungwa Mbeki, researcher at the South African Human Rights Commission, said that due to numerous complaints about the relocation project, the commission would be conducting a site visit today to investigate and assess the situation.

Each house has one tiny window and their size can hardly fit a double bed. There is no electricity and all the 27 people who are currently there rely on a single communal tap and a few mobile toilets. Some of the houses have gaping holes between the ceiling and the holding wall. 

Nonkwa Ngcobu, 27, hailing from Eastern Cape, was a victim of the Marshalltown fire and had been living at the recreation centre with her two children for two months before being relocated. She was one of more than 100 people who were displaced when fire engulfed the Usindiso building in the Joburg CBD, leaving 77 dead.

It’s not nice to live here in these shacks because they are not big enough to accommodate my family. Even looking at the ground, the water might sip in under the door when it rains because of the gaping space under it [door]. 

We are mostly women here with only two men to keep us safe. There is no security and our doors cannot lock,said Ngcobu. 

She said she had received a call on Tuesday that city officials were at the recreation centre and that they were removing people in vans. 

No one told us anything, no warning, nothing. The immigration officers were checking for peoples identities using a biometric machine. I tried asking for my belongings but they said they had put everything into the truck and they shoved me into the van before driving off, said Ngcobu.

She said illegal foreigners were taken to Jeppe police station, while the rest were relocated to the shacks.

Reabetswe Mandoro, 21, said the relocation was inhumane.

I arrived at the centre and everything was packed up. I had hid the little money I had in my mattress and now its gone. We werent safe at the centre and now it's even worse. Theres a mens hostel just down the road and there is no gate to keep us safe, said Mandoro.

City of Joburg human settlements spokesperson Neo Goba said the families were relocated, and not evicted, as there was no eviction notice given by court.

The city relocated the fire victims to a Transitional Relocation Area (TRA) located in Denver. Note that this TRA is next door to the Denver informal settlement. The beneficiaries were notified of the relocation on Monday, said Goba.

Goba said missing services to the relocation area were still being constructed.

“The Denver TRA will be linked to the upgrading of the informal settlement programme for the Denver informal settlement, where services such as water, sewer and electrical infrastructure will be constructed. So, the services will be installed, and more so the city is in the process of acquiring land to assist with the mixed housing development for this community,” said Goba.

He did not respond when asked how much the city had paid for the structures.

Dale McKinley, spokesperson at Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia, said there was no warning given to the victims, the NGO or the social workers who were working with the victims.

This was something that the city and the department of home affairs decided to do on their own. We were contacted by the people from the centre telling us that officials were there packing their belongings. They didn't know what to do and wanted people to come and help, said McKinley.

He said that the City of Joburg explained the reason behind the move as the centre always had been considered a temporary solution.

But what they [City o Joburg] didnt indicate was what was going to happen to those who lost their documentation in the fire beforehand. And this is the most outrageous thing as far as we are concerned. They have gone to arrest everyone who cannot be documented, knowing well enough they lost their documentation in the fire, said McKinley.

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