Baba Dhlomo’s Funeral 17 August 2006

Press Release
13 August 2006


At around 8:30 p.m. on Friday 11 August a candle fell over in the front room of a shack in the Kennedy Road settlement. Four people lived in the large shack. They were all able to get out except for Mr. Zithulele Dhlomo whose room was at the back of the shack. He was an old man, around 70 years old, and the way out was blocked by fire burning hot from the plastic sheeting in the roof. He was burnt to death.

Last week there was a major conflagration in the Jadhu Place settlement. Before that it was Quarry Road and before that it was Lacey Road. The fires happen more or less every week. These fires are not acts of god. They are a direct consequence of the eThekwini Municipality’s infamous and unconstitutional 2001 decision to suspend the provision of electricity to shack settlement. The policy states that ‘In past (1990s) electrification was rolled out to all and sundry…electrification of the informal settlements has now been discontinued’.

People in the Kennedy Road settlement were pleased that the fire brigade only took 45 minutes to come this time. But they were horrified that when the police came to take Mr. Dhlomo’s body they couldn’t, despite pleas, be bothered to find and remove the remains of the leg and lower arms that were burnt right off the charred body. By Sunday afternoon the Municipality’s disaster management service had still not arrived to offer their meagre support of a blanket and two tins of canned food for each person rendered homeless by fire.

Mr. Dhlomo was one the most longstanding residents of the Kennedy Road settlement. He came to the settlement from Maphumulo more than 20 years ago and made his living pushing a cart round the city looking for scrap metal to recycle. On 21 October last year a one year old boy, Mhlengi Khumalo, died in Kennedy Road after 8 shacks were consumed in a blaze. An all night memorial service was held in the Kennedy Road hall on 29 October and the T-shirts made for the occasion read, in translation from Zulu, ‘Go well Mhlengi Khumalo – Electricity, land and housing would have saved his life’. This is the truth. The eThekwini Municipality’s unconscionable policy that deliberately denies shack dwellers access to electricity maims and kills people as well as destroying people’s homes and important possessions like ID books and school uniforms.

Standing over the ruins of Mr Dhlomo’s home while people searched for the missing body parts Philani Dlamini, the Abahlali baseMjondolo deputy president who is from the Pemary Ridge settlement said that “The fact is that our government should consider this very, very seriously. Our lives are threatened by fire on a daily basis. This is like HIV. Our demand for land and housing in the city is a very serious and very urgent issue. We are dying while we wait.”

Mnikelo Ndabankulu, the Abahlali baseMjondolo PRO who is from the Foreman Road settlement, said “I am very angry. We have just had women’s day. This is the month for women’s struggles. But it is the women who suffer the most from the lack of electricity and the few taps in the settlements. We call on all the organisations fighting for women’s rights to stop just fighting on TV and to come and fight live. How will Mr. Dhlomo’s wife live now? How will she look after the grandchildren? Even the children’s new school books are lost.

S’bu Zikode, President of Abahlali baseMjondolo, said “They tell us that they will clear the slums by 2010 but they won’t tell us what their plan is – where they want to put us and when they want to move us. They will not or cannot show us any programme. While we wait for a promise with no details we are being killed. We seriously condemn this incident. We are saying that the government is responsible for this death. Everyday we are making noise about fire, about the urgent need for water, electricity and toilets, about the need for land and housing in the city. It is not like we are keeping quiet. Everybody knows what is needed but the government just ignores us. Enough is enough! So many of us are sick. Some of us are too sick to escape the fires.

After discussions with Mr. Dhlomo’s family in Maphumalo it has been agreed that Abahlali baseMjondolo will host a memorial service on Thursday 17 August. After the memorial service Abahlali baseMjondolo will organise a mass protest across all Abahlali affiliated settlements across Durban and in Pinetown demanding the immediate electrification of all settlements.

For comment please contact:

S’bu Zikode 0835470474
Mnikelo Ndabankulu 0735656241
M’du Hlongwa 0723358966