The Plague of Fires Takes Another Life in Kennedy Road

Who do you think must get burnt Mlaba?” (March on Mlaba – 28 September 2007)

The Plague of Fires Takes Another Life in Kennedy Road

Last night we were terrorised by another fire. This time we were able to stop it spreading from the shack where it started. There were 13 people living in that shack. Ma Khuzwayo and her 12 children and grandchildren. Ma Khuzwayo is an amputee and she could not escape the fire. She had lived in Kennedy Road for more than 20 years and was an important member of the community. She was 52.

Her 12 children and grandchildren have now lost their mother and grandmother, their home and all their possessions. They need urgent help. And we need support in our struggle for the electrification of shacks. These fires are terrorising us all the time because the municipality took a decision in 2001 to stop electrifying shacks. These fires are their responsibility. Many of us believe that they are trying to force us to leave our homes and to accept ‘relocation’ (which is really ‘ruralisation’) by forcing us choose between living with fires in the city or without fires in the relocation sites.

Ma Khuzwayo is not the first person to die in the fires here in Kennedy Road. In October 2005 we lost a young child, Mhlengi Khumalo. In August 2006 we lost an old man, Baba Dhlomo. In January this year we survived a big fire without loss of life but then in April this year we lost two people in another big fire.

And it is not just us. It is Quarry Road, it is Lacey Road, it is Jadhu Place, it is Motala Heights, it is Mayville . The terror of shack fires is everywhere and it will stay everywhere for as long as we are forced to live 13 people in one shack with candles and a paraffin stove because it has been decided that electricity is not for us and that we are not allowed to expand our shacks or to build new ones as our families grow.

This is what the eThekwini Municipality’s electrification policy says: “In the past (1990s) electrification was rolled out to all and sundry. Because of the lack of funding and the huge costs required to relocate services when these settlements are upgraded or developed, electrification of the informal settlements has been discontinued.”

People who are not given electricity are terrorized by the fires. People who take electricity to save themselves, their families and their homes from the fires get arrested by the police. People who expand their shacks to make more space for growing families get arrested. If we try to march legally and peacefully to ask for electricity we are arrested. Are we supposed to just accept that our only choice is to burn in the city or to rot outside it (where we are safe from fire but too far from work and schools)? We will not accept this.

On 28 September we marched on Mayor Obed Mlaba. One of our main demands was for electrification to stop the fires. Instead of being listened to we were attacked and beaten by the police. The church leaders stood up to tell the truth about what happened that day. They have also stood with us when we have mourned the people who have passed away in the fires.

Our struggle to be recognised as human beings continues.

For comment or to offer support please contact Mashumi Figlan, Chairperson of the Kennedy Road Development Committee, on 0725274600

Click here to read the story on the fire in the Sunday Tribune by Lerato Matsaneg.