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Cape Town: Government Policies Behind Shack-Fire Epidemic

Government Policies Are Behind The Shack-Fire Epidemic In Cape Town

Abahlali baseMjondolo Western Cape
1 January 2012

As residents of QQ Section shack settlement and members of the movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, we would like to say that we are not happy about what happened early this morning across the street from QQ Section.

A massive shack-fire, which started at around 4am, swept through almost the entire shack settlement of BM Section leaving thousands homeless and at least three (but possibly as much as six) people dead. We have a few Abahlali members in the settlement and, as residents of QQ Section, we also have a large number of friends and family who also were affected by the fire. We therefore remain in living solidarity with all those affect by the fire in BM section and other shack fires in WD Section and in Du Noon.

The scourge of shack-fires throughout all of Cape Town's shack settlements and the delayed and uncaring response by the city clearly shows that shackdwellers have been isolated socially, economically and politically. If the government would give us the respect of a citizen of this country, this kind of incident would not have happened.

The immediate cause of the fire remains uncertain (either a cooking accident or a knocked over candle by a drunk community member). Yet the resulting massive fire is beyond our control as residents of the shacks. In other words, these fires are not only preventable, but they are caused by uncaring and anti-poor government policy.

As citizens of this country, we have a right to decent housing, to efficient sanitation, to affordable electricity and to well-planned roads. Yet even though residents of BM section as well as numerous settlements affiliated to Abahlali baseMjondolo have been protesting for these things for years, the government has delivered almost nothing we have demanded for our communities.

• If we had electricity, dangerous paraffin stoves and candles would be a thing of the past and shack-fires would be a rare phenomenon.
• If we had piped water into our homes, we would be able to quickly fight the fires ourselves.
• If we had proper access roads in our settlements, fire-fighters would be able to stop fires much quicker.
• If we had brick house and our own plots of land, fires would not spread from one home to the next.

If we had all these things, or even some of them, an accident by a drunk neighbour would not affect the livelihood those around him.

Shack-fires in Cape Town, just as this report shows they are in Durban, are the result of government policy that denies us the basic things we need to live healthy and safe lives.

Instead, shack-fires have now become an opportunity for the city to pretend it cares for us by giving us a few food parcels and blankets each time a fire rips through one of our communities. And yet, even the city's contingency plan is lacking:

• Disaster Management has failed to provide emergency accommodation to all the victims of the fire in BM Section.
• Despite claims to the contrary, Disaster Management has failed to provide all victims with food, clothes, blankets and other necessary emergency items.

We therefore appeal to Mayor de Lille to sit down with Abahlali baseMjondolo and other shackdwellers throughout the city to discuss the role that the City of Cape Town plays in creating the conditions of the current shack-fire epidemic.

We as AbM-WC are also asking for solidarity with the victims of the BM Section fire. Please contact us if you'd like to help.

For more, please visit the website of the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign at: and follow us on

Visit Abahlali baseMjondolo at and

The Poor People's Alliance: Abahlali baseMjondolo, together with with Landless People's Movement (Gauteng), the Rural Network (KwaZulu-Natal) and the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, is part of the Poor People's Alliance - a unfunded national network of democratic membership based poor people's movements.


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