No country for the poor

The devastation in Town Two, Khayelitsha, after a shack fire.
The devastation in Town Two, Khayelitsha, after a shack fire.
Image: City of Cape Town

Despite its progressive constitution and policies that provide a social wage for a large percentage of the less privileged, SA is no country for its poor.

For a middle income country with the kind of resources that most other African states can only dream of, the poor in South Africa suffer a lot of unnecessary misery.

Just this weekend in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, a person died and over 300 shacks were destroyed by fire - leaving 1330 people homeless.

The causes of the fire are still being investigated, but what is clear is that shack fires are a pressing crisis that needs to be addressed urgently.

In Johannesburg alone, authorities say, emergency services record about 70 shack fires a month.

It never really matters whether the poor are in ANC-run or DA-led municipalities, as long as you are in an overcrowded informal settlement you live under constant danger of losing it all - including your life - to fire.

Yet there are steps that can be taken by the various spheres of government to minimise this danger.

This would include the rapid roll-out of affordable housing for the poor in overcrowded municipalities.

But even if the housing backlog is so huge that government can't provide homes at the required speed, the installation of electricity in these neighbourhoods could help stop people from relying on unsafe paraffin stoves and candles.

There could also be a massive civic campaign teaching residents about the need to avoid building informal housing structures on top of each other.

While these measures have to be carried through without delay, we believe that what is required immediately - as a result of the Khayelitsha tragedy - is a national campaign to support the affected community with resources.

We saw such a campaign recently when fires gutted farms and residential homes in Knysna. Big corporates, banks and the public at large joined hands.

The same spirit is required for Khayelitsha. We commend individuals who have started the initiative to rally support for the affected residents, but they cannot be the only ones who do so in a country with so much resources.

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