Love in a time of fire

last night there were gusts of strong wind in durban. in the lacey road settlement a candle went over at around midnight. within minutes there was a conflagration. this time the fire brigade were there within 30 minutes. but the fire burnt until 5 this morning. no one was hurt but around half of the small settlement was burnt away – 43 shacks, home to around 250 people.

these fires are not accidents. they are a direct consequence of the eThekwini Municipality’s 2001 decision to stop the electrification of ‘informal’ settlements. that policy states that:

5. Informal Settlements
In the past (1990s) electrification was rolled out to all and sundry…because of the lack of funding…electrification of the informal settlements has been discontinued.

this while the Muncipality has subsidised the building of casinos, hotels and a themepark and while it now contemplates a new ‘iconic’ sports stadium. this while a developer from dubai is contracted to advise the province on how to ‘become world class’. this is not a policy driven by a lack of money. it is a policy aimed at driving the poor out the city.

lacey road has been lucky so far. the last fire was two years ago and only one shack burnt. this time at least no one was hurt.

lacey road is one of three small settlements in the area that has not offered solid support for abahlali basemjondolo. two of these settlements (quarry road and lacey road) have been promised upgrades in the area (everyone else faces forced removal to rural human dumping grounds). this promise was made to lacey road by mayor obed mlaba at a meeting with abahlali bademjondolo on 9 November last year. mlaba promised that upgrades would begin in January 2006. upgrades include, of course, electrification. there has been no sign of the promised upgades. lacey road is the only one of the three settlements that have remained largely anc in which abahlali have faced credible death threats. elsewhere abahlali have been free to organise.

by 9 this morning there was a good number of abahlali from kennedy road, foreman road and some of the smaller settlements in the area working with lacey road people to clear up the debri, salvage corrigated iron sheets that could be fixed up and beat corrigated iron twisted up by the heat back into shape. more and more abahlali arrived as the day went on and the work began to go very quickly. the red shirts proved themselves the precise opposite of the red ants.

the foreman road people had to go to their mass meeting at 10. they wanted to tell everyone about unfreedom day. with no sense of irony the sydenham police arrived to try and stop the meeting. (glen nayagar wasn’t there in person this time – he seems to have dedicated himself to following raj patel around theres days). the meeting went ahead. it was a big success.

by 12 access to the municipal damp to find building material had been negotiated, 300 blankets had been received from a muslim charity and temporary shelter in the kennedy road hall offered to all. baig pitched up at around 1. he didn’t enter the settlement but watched his people ladle out plates of briyani from the road outside. by 3 enough food had been bought for all the homeless families for 2 weeks and baby food had been bought for all the families with infants. an umhlali from kennedy road working as a driver managed to make a small deviation from his route to pick it up at macro and drop it off. there were also donations of clothes from wentworth, westcliff in chatsworth, kennedy road and some of the american students here on the SIT programme. the reconstruction work was going very well but just after 3 the clouds burst open and the rain came pounding down. the ash turned to thick grey mud. nothing more could be done.

everyone moved down to the the kennedy road hall where the banner painting workshop for the unfreedom day wake on the 27th was in full swing. people were there from the settlements, chatsworth, wentworth and the socialist students’ movement and the atmosphere was wonderful.

word was that baig had been al over al ansaar radio explaining what good work he was doing….

the minimum cost for rebuilding a basic shack is 300. that is the average monthly income in the settlements. support is still needed in cash or in kind. the person to contact is m’du hlongwa – 0723358966.

a few pictures at