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06 December 2011

20 die in Western Cape shack fires

Asemahle Manqweni stands next to the mangled remains of a shack destroyed in a huge fire in Lwandle, Strand. Three people died in the blaze. Photo: Cindy Waxa

Ten people died and hundreds are homeless after weekend fires tore through informal settlements and razed countless homes across Cape Town.

Since Friday, the Cape Town Fire and Rescue Service had been battling major fires in Khayelitsha, Langa, Mfuleni and Lwandle, said the city’s disaster management centre.

On Sunday, residents guarded the few possessions they had saved while others got to work rebuilding after a fire in Lwandle, Strand claimed three lives and left nearly 500 people homeless.

In other weekend incidents:

* A fire in the Taiwan informal settlement in Khayelitsha destroyed 40 wooden structures, leaving 160 people homeless.

* Two people died and eight were displaced after a fire in Solomon Tshuku Road in Mfuleni.

* Two people died and 16 were left homeless after a blaze swept through Khayelitsha’s TR Section.

* One man died and 40 people were displaced in Langa.

* A fire in Langa’s Joe Slovo informal settlement on Saturday morning gutted about 20 shacks and left about 100 people homeless, reported the Weekend Argus.

* On Friday, two men died and six people were left homeless when a fire gutted three shacks in Khayelitsha’s Site C.

In Lwandle, stunned residents sat with their belongings on the pavement in Onverwacht Road after a fire destroyed their homes in the early hours.

Cape Town Fire and Rescue spokesman Theo Layne said close to 200 shacks had been gutted by the fire, which started at about 1am. He said 466 people had been displaced and three men had died.

It had taken firefighters nearly five hours to contain the blaze, which was believed to have been caused by a paraffin stove that caught alight.

Piles of corrugated iron and debris were swept aside to make way for new structures.

Andiswa Madanda, 26, stood with a baby bag, gas stove and some belongings she had rescued along with her two children.

“I was asleep and around 1am I saw the fire. I put my baby on my back and grabbed the other one by the arm to get them out. It was so windy and the fire just got bigger.”

Dimpho Lmoshoeshoe, 34, said his plans to spend Christmas in the Eastern Cape with his family were now ruined.

“I was preparing to go home... but now there’s no way out because I have no money. I spent so much already on the Christmas trip and now I will have to stay in Cape Town to rebuild my house again,” he said.

Some residents made a desperate plea to the government to fast-track the building of houses.

“This thing must come to an end. People lose their IDs, lives, everything. It’s such a disaster. People are voting every time when they say we must vote, so government must build houses for the people. It’s sad when this happens because our families don’t know what they are going to eat, wear, or where they are going to stay tonight,” said Chippa Mbala, 24.

Meanwhile, other families were left reeling, reliving the horror of losing their loves ones.

Bongani Phatsoane, 42, said that after the fire broke out he rushed to check on his brother-in-law, Thembinkosi Dose, 37.

“Everything was on fire when I got here, there was smoke everywhere... I saw his bike he used to go to work with and just felt something was wrong here,” he said.

He tried Dose’s cellphone but got his voicemail.

“I ran back home to tell my wife I couldn’t find him. I told her something wrong happened there, and then came back. The firemen stopped me when I tried to get in, they told me the body was there. I told them I don’t believe them.”

Dose’s wife, Nomsa, son, Athenkosi, and daughter, Khanyisa, live in the Eastern Cape.

Eunice Dangazele, 33, lost her brother, Bulelani Dangazele, 26.

“We got the call from one of the neighbours that he had burnt to death... ” she said.

At the time of going to press the disaster management centre was unable to confirm the details of those who had died. – Additional reporting by Neo Maditla

janis.kinnear - Cape Argus