Category Archives: Abahlali baseArnett Drive

Heritage Day Fire in Arnett Drive

Abahlali baseMjondolo Arnett Drive Press Release
25 September 2010

Heritage Day Fire in Arnett Drive

At 9:45 last night a primus stove broke out starting a big fire in shack number 40 in the Arnett Drive settlement. This shack was completely destroyed and the next door shack was damaged. Gertrude Cele (65) was very badly burnt on her side and stomach and is now in Addington Hospital. She and her partner, Michael Morori, have lost their home and all their possessions.

The fire brigade were called but they came late. However the community was able to organise a chain to pass buckets of water from the river up to the settlement and we put the fire out ourselves. The police came quite quickly and they called the ambulance that took Gertrude Cele to hospital. We appreciate this. The councillor has not come although we phoned him and there has been no support from Disaster Management. We need building materials to rebuild the shack.

There have been fires in our settlement in 1992, 2007 and 2009. These fires are a result of having to use primus stoves and candles instead of electricity. When our self organised electricity connections are destroyed by the police they force us back to the primus stoves and candles and therefore to the fires. The denial of electricity to shack dwellers is the cause of shack fires.

When we first started to organise ourselves as Abahlali baseMjoindolo the politicians would always say that shack fires are the result of drunkeness. Now they always say that shack fires are the result of ‘illegal electricity connections’. They are always trying to blame us for the fires whereas they are the ones that have failed to ensure that we have access to electricity. Everyone knows that when self organised connections are done safely they protect us from fires.

Earlier this year the eThekwini Municipality lifted its 2001 ban on providing electricity to shacks. This was a direct result of the struggle of Abahlali baseMjondolo and we welcome this step forward by the Municipality. However we have still not been provided with formal access to electricity and until we are we will insist on our right to connect ourselves to electricity.

The Arnett Drive shack settlement was formed when this land was occupied in 1978. Since then the settlement has constantly been threatened with eviction. As a result of our struggle in Abahlali baseMjondolo we have now been promised that houses will be built for us here in Reservoir Hills and that we will not be forcibly removed to the human dumping grounds outside the city. We welcome this promise.

However we do fear that all these promises could just be to try and trick us into voting in the next election and that after that the bulldozers will come to destroy the settlement. We cannot relax until the promises that have been made to us our kept.

Our demands are that:

1. We are given formal access to electricity and that while we wait our self-organised connections are not destroyed.
2. We are given toilets and taps.
3. Our settlement is upgraded where it is.

We are also unhappy about the police raids. They come into the settlement during the night, waking us up, making us stand up while they look into our homes. They look for electricity connections and to see if anyone is selling beer. They often steal our money and insult us. Earlier this year they confiscated two crates of beer and two bottles of Smirnoff from one lady and stole R1000 from her. She was also made to pay a fine of R300. During these raids the police treat the poor as criminals. No middle class person has their home raided in the middle of the night. We have the same right as anyone to be protected and not vandalised by the people. However we wish to be clear that we are not fighting the police. We are fighting the municipality and the councillors.

We are not happy about Heritage Day. How can we be happy when Gertrude Cele and Michael Morori have lost their home and Gertrude is in a serious condition in hospital? Some of our parents came here after being evicted from Umkhumbane [Cato Manor] where they fought in the women’s riot in 1959. This is the only heritage that we can take pride in – the heritage of the long and continuing struggles of the poor to have a dignified place in this city.

For more information and comment please3 contact:

Nomhle Mkhetho 079 258 6043
Clement Mtshali 078 115 3215

Click here to read ‘A Big Devil in the Jondolos: A report on Shack Fires’ by Matt Birkinshaw (2008).