Daily News: Allegations of arson fuel anger among squatters

Kennedy Road Burns – 16 June 2009, Picture by S’bu Zikode.


Allegations of arson fuel anger among squatters

November 17, 2010 Edition 1


A WAR of words has erupted between the city and shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo over remarks by a top housing official that the burning of shacks in eThekwini was being “orchestrated”.

The claim by Nigel Gumede, head of the city’s housing committee, at a recent committee meeting, has left the movement perplexed.

Several Durban informal settlements have gone up in flames this year, claiming the lives of four people and leaving hundreds of people destitute.

Gumede said he wanted informal settlement arsonists to be criminally charged for the offence, saying the same laws needed to apply to people, whether they were rich or poor.

“If a person burns down their house or flat they get charged with arson. The same law needs to apply to people responsible for burning shacks,” he said. “We have a strong suspicion that the burning of shacks is orchestrated.”

What further exacerbated the situation was that the culprits were not apologetic for starting the fires, but instead demanded new houses from the city, said Gumede.

“The shack dwellers don’t do anything about these culprits who are responsible for destroying their shacks and belongings.”

However, Abahlali spokesman Clement Mtshali yesterday dismissed the allegations, saying it was an insult for the city to accuse them of such an “atrocious” act.

“Why would someone purposely burn down their shack? Why would someone give away the small home that they have in hope that the city will provide them with a house? That doesn’t make any sense and these allegations are an insult to the shack dwellers,” he said.

Mtshali said he was “really disappointed” that the city could accuse shack dwellers of such a “heartless” act. “So they mean that we would burn down a shack, killing people in the process, just because we hoping to get a new house. How heartless do they think we are?”

In the most recent incident, two people died, more than 1 000 people were left homeless and 200 dwellings were destroyed when a massive fire ripped through a large informal settlement in Quarry Road last month.

In other incident, firefighters battled for hours last month trying to put out various fires at an informal settlement on Jadoo Place in Springfield.

In August, a fire at the Kennedy Road informal settlement destroyed 500 shacks and left about 2 000 residents without homes. And in July a fire at the same settlement killed two people, gutted about 500 shacks and left more than 200 residents homeless.

Earlier this year, in another Kennedy Road informal settlement fire, 150 shacks were destroyed and 400 people left homeless, while the Cato Crest informal settlement was hit by four fires this year.