Obs squatter camp appeals for help after fire

A fire destroyed a shack in Singabalapha on Saturday night.

Residents of an Observatory squatter camp are asking for help after a fire there on Saturday night destroyed at least one shack.

The fire at the Singabalapha settlement in Main Road started after a lit candle toppled over, according to City Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Jermaine Carelse.

It took 30 minutes to put out the fire, there were no injuries and six people were displaced, he said. However, Singabalapha spokesman Khululekile Banzi said a further two shacks had been damaged and there were 11 victims of the fire. And one man told the Tatler he had suffered burns to his arms.

Pamela, who did not want to give her surname, said she and her four sons had stayed in the shack that was destroyed.

“One was sleeping on the bed when the candle fell,” she said.

They had all managed to get out of the shack, but they had lost all their possessions, including clothes, pots and furniture.

Her neighbour, Sihle Stofile, said he had suffered burns to his forearms while retrieving gas cylinders from his shack.

“I tried to get the gas cylinders out, I could not come through the door as the fire was burning. I jumped through the window, though I still got burnt.”

Mase Vuza said half of her shack had been destroyed by the fire. She has an 18-month-old baby and twins aged 14. “We lost the twins’ school uniforms, a chest of drawers, bed, and birth certificate.”

The community was born in October 2019 when people who had been staying in the abandoned Arcadia Place old-age home moved onto the home’s front lawn after being evicted (“Evictees camp out on lawn,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, October 10, 2019)

In May 2020 during the hard lockdown, they were granted an urgent interim court order, preventing the City from harassing them and removing their property (“Small victory for Obs occupiers,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, May 28, 2020).

Mr Banzi said they needed water, electricity and ablution facilities. “The City has not spoken to us; they have remained distant.”

Observatory Civic Association spokesman Edwin Angless said they were asking the public to help the fire victims. “We would encourage people to provide any support to the residents in distress in whatever ways they can.”

He added: “The fire is a reflection of the fact that the Singabalapha settlement does not have access to basic services like water and electricity.”

The City could quickly and easily supply water and electricity, he said.

Groote Schuur Community Improvement District manager Barbara Breedt said fire in the settlement posed a threat to nearby businesses and student accommodation.

“With the season changing, it is now darker in the mornings and evenings and candles are used more frequently.”

Call 082 834 5458 if you want to help the Singabalapha fire victims.

The City did not respond to questions by deadline.

A table, pots and plates destroyed in the fire.