Another fire, another struggle to rebuild

Victims of the latest fire in Overcome Heights face the daunting task of having to rebuild.

After another fire swept through Overcome Heights last week, destroying the homes of 79 people, community leaders are asking the City to help the victims rebuild.

About 35 firefighters from seven stations battled the blaze from late on Thursday night and into the early hours of Friday morning. Strong winds fanned the flames, but the fire was out by 3.12am, with no reports of injuries, according to City Fire and Rescue Services spokesman Jermaine Carelse.

The cause of the fire is unknown, according to Mr Carelse.

The blaze destroyed 30 homes, according to Disaster Risk Management Centre spokeswoman Charlotte Powell. The centre has asked the South African Social Services Agency (SASSA) to provide humanitarian aid to the fire victims, she says.

The City used to provide rebuilding kits to fire victims but stopped doing so about a year ago, saying the national government money it relied on to do this dried up.

Overcome Heights community leader Fouzia Cassiem says there have been many fires in the area and victims find it very hard to rebuild their homes and their lives without the kits.

“The City needs to get the money from the national government, so that they can buy material to rebuild their homes. There is a big struggle with the residents who are not employed, therefore they will not be able to afford to buy their own materials.

“We, as leaders, do not have the money to fix their structures ourselves. So, where must they sleep and eat? They also don’t have any clothes and the children’s school clothes. It is heartbreaking.”

This is not the first time community leaders have called on the City to reinstate the issuing of rebuilding kits to fire victims in informal settlements (“Community leaders urge City to reinstate fire kits,” August 11). But the City says national budget cuts have made this near impossible to do (“Fire victims desperate to rebuild their homes – and their lives,” September 22).

Overcome Heights residents are trying to pick up the pieces after their homes were destroyed in a fire.

Instead of providing the rebuilding kits to fire victims, the City now alerts Sassa so that fire victims can benefit from a R700 emergency relief grant.

However, Ms Cassiem feels this is an inadequate response. “What can you buy from a R700 which Sassa provides?” Also, you need an ID to apply for the money, she says, putting it beyond the reach of those whose personal documents have been lost in a fire.

Meanwhile, she is asking for donations of bedding, appliances and any household items for the victims.

Mymoena Scholtz, the founder of non-profit organisation Where Rainbows Meet, in neighbouring Vrygrond, says the fire victims have been approaching the organisation for help.

“My heart aches for the people because they are destitute with nowhere to turn to and no support.”

Without support from the City, fire victims are being left destitute and hopeless, she says.

“People are losing everything. As an organisation, we have very little resources. People came early in the morning crying they lost everything, and it is very sad to see the people in so much pain.”

Malusi Booi, mayoral committee member for human settlements, says each fire is assessed individually, and while the City helps to clear the site, and organise donations, it no longer automatically gives relief kits to fire victims outside of a declared national disaster because the national grants for this have been cut.

“The City until recently was the only metro in South Africa to provide enhanced fire kits to fire-affected residents as an additional service, outside of formal declared disasters. It was paid with the national grant funding. Now there is no more money.

“Traditionally, we did so to enhance turnaround times and offer assistance where we could. We continue to look at all options, and we are still providing assistance where we can.”

If anyone wants to donate anything contact Ms Cassiem at 074 323 1815.