Community leaders urge City to reinstate fire kits

Victims of the many fires which have ravaged informal settlements around the city have battled to rebuild their homes without fire kits, the distribution of which has been halted due to budget cuts. Pictured is a recent fire in Phumlani.

Community leaders are calling on the City to reinstate the issuing of starter kits to residents of informal settlements who lose their homes in fires.

But the City says national budget cuts has made this near impossible to do.

Over the past few months fires have razed numerous shack in informal settlements where fire victims have been battling to rebuild their homes – and their lives.

Among those recently affected were the residents of Phumlani Village where a fire destroyed 14 shacks on Wednesday July 28, and community leaders have drawn up a petition which they hope will prompt the City to provide assistance (“Appeal to help Phumlani fire victims”, Southern Mail, August 4).

In June, frustrated residents of Jim se Bos took to the street in protest, after a fire there killed one person, destroyed 195 homes and displaced 564 people. Protesting residents caused damages of close to R800 000, destroying a number of food stores (“Jim se Bos fire leaves hundreds homeless”, Southern Mail, June 30).

Edward Bosch, spokesperson for the City’s Fire and Rescue Service, said they had responded to reports about the fire at the settlement in Olieboom Road, Philippi at 11.51am on June 20.

Ottery community activist Keith Blake, who is working with other community leaders to set up the petition, said he was angry that the City had not assisted victims of the Phumlani fire.

“After a fire destroys almost every meagre possession of these poor people, we request the City get a feasible human rights written plan of action within hours of a fire that destroys the homes or hokkies of the poorest of the poor.”

When asked if the City will be reconsidering the budget cuts, Malusi Booi, mayoral committee member for human settlements, said: “The City really looked at all feasible options available to continue with its high level of assistance to victims of fire and flood events. However, due to national government budget cuts, (since December 2020) the City is unfortunately not able to pay for the automatic provision of fire kits outside of a declared disaster.

“The City was the only metro in South Africa that provided the service of fire building materials outside of a declared disaster. Therefore, the City does what it can to provide soft relief, enable humanitarian assistance, clear sites and debris for rebuilding and assist where it can. The City also applies to the national disaster authorities for assistance to have incidents declared a disaster, in order to possibly unlock disaster relief funds.

“It is thus so important that residents and communities do all they can to prevent the occurrence of fires – by not leaving open flames unattended, among others. The City continues with its education and awareness drives around fire and flood safety.”

Disaster Risk Management spokesperson, Charlotte Powell added: “The City’s Disaster Risk Management Centre continues to do all it can to assist indigent communities affected by fire, flooding and other disasters.

“However, it must be noted that the DRMC has had no involvement in the direct provision of humanitarian relief since 2018, when Sassa took over the responsibility.

“Up until that point, the DRMC had facilitated the activation of humanitarian relief and conducting assessments on Sassa’s behalf.

“The change came about after Sassa reassessed its policies and procedures in funding service providers (NGOs) who provide social relief to disaster victims.

“There were concerns that the payments to service providers could possibly be classified as irregular expenditure in terms of the Public Finance Management Act and the Sassa supply chain management policies.

“The DRMC continues to conduct assessments and submits requests to Sassa to provide humanitarian relief in instances where it is deemed appropriate, but ultimately it is Sassa’s decision on whether or not to activate such requests.”

According to community leaders Abe Braaf and Rugayba Adams of New Horizon, who had been assisting victims with food and clothing, were unhappy with the City’s response “regarding the lack of funds for fire kits and relief funds”.

They said fire victims had appealed to them for help.

Mr Braaf said they would be sending a letter to each Sub-council, calling on all ward councillors to use part of their “annual allocation towards fire kits and stop paying for fancy pathways and events that only benefit a few”.

“We are also sending a letter to the national disaster authority to look into ways to increase the amounts.”

According to Mr Braaf the community leaders will be handing over the petition to the City of Cape Town and to each of the 24 sub-councils during August and September.