Wikipedia says, "Fire is a serious hazard in shack (informal) settlements in South Africa and it has been argued that "on average, over the past 5 years, there are ten shack fires per day with someone dying in a shack fire somewhere in South Africa every other day." Key reasons for shack fires are listed as "lack of land, lack of housing, denial of access to electricity, to adequate water and to adequate emergency services", a sad indictment of "municipal policy-choices that have accomplished little towards changing the circumstances under which the urban poor live, causing them to bear the awful brunt of continuing cycles of death and destruction".
Knit-a-Square found itself more closely associated with this issue in the past week ... in the first instance, our recent delivery of 5 large boxes of KAS items to our good friend Maureen in KwaZulu Natal coincided remarkably with the fire at Jika Joe's settlement near Pietermaritzburg and enabled Mama Ntombi Community Projects mentor, Sandra Pillay, to distribute blankets and other items to those who had lost their homes, in a matter of days! Sandra reports, “The fire devastated lives after destroying some 100 shacks, leaving more than 350 people destitute - they lost their homes and all their belongings. Gogo Ntuli told us that her son, Zama's house was also burnt down. She screamed at him to get his ID book as it is difficult to replace this, and he ran out with the ID and just the pants he was wearing at 4am that fateful morning. Pastor Chris, the Vice Chairman of Mama Ntombi's Community Projects joined me (Sandra) at the scene this morning and distributed food, blankets, shoes and clothes to some of the people affected. More help is needed to relieve the plight of these poor, devastated communities and we are especially concerned about mothers with babies and small children."
Then, last week we heard radio reports of another huge shack fire closer to home in the Kya Sands Informal Settlement area in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, close to the KAS office. Having made a note of the telephone number of Pastor Evans, who is responsible for directing the relief services in the area, we made contact with him and pledged our prayers and assistance. After a very hasty appeal to our wonderful Thursday volunteers who responded with profound generosity, we filled the KASvan to capacity with KAS items such as blankets, beanies, tops and second-hand clothing, AND, in accordance with the most urgent requirements, many dozens of tinned foods, sugar, bread, jam, powdered milk, nappies, cereals and rice.
Packing for Kya Sands.
Having been warned that, in accordance with the picture painted by Wikipedia, there had been violent service delivery protests in the area after the fire, which had affected upwards of 150 children, let alone adults, we thought it wise not to travel en masse to Kya Sands and so Lindi, Wandi, Oti and myself delivered the goods to the large tented church where we were happy to see many piles of items which had already been delivered in answer to the radio appeal. It's humbling to see how many people ARE willing to help, and there we saw beds and bedding, items of furniture and piles of food and clothing already waiting for distribution.
I must just say here that it is so great to feel safe going into any area driving the KASvan with its colourful decals showing that we are not part of the problem but rather hopeful of being part of the solution!
Delivering to Kya Sands.
It was not possible for us to visit the "ground zero" of the fire, but we could see in the distance that the affected people were already bravely re-building their shacks - this time with wooden frames and with space between the individual homes which would hopefully serve to prevent the typically rapid spread of fire between adjoining structures.
I spoke to Pastor Evans earlier today and he was so thankful to everyone who contributed to Knit-a-Square's ability to assist ... he said that many of the people had settled into their new homes already, but reported that his most recent concern had been two very elderly men who had been rendered extremely vulnerable and remained beyond adequate assistance. In fact, there had been three of them until one sadly succumbed, on Sunday, to the shock, fear and trauma of losing his meagre home and belongings. We pray that he may rest in peace and that his friends will find help to rebuild their shacks and their lives.
Rebuilding their homes.
We will stay in touch with Pastor Evans and hope to be led to crèches and daycare centres in the Kya Sands settlement for distributions before next winter.
This has been a sad report but we take heart from the fact that our amazing contributors all over the world empower us to show, first-hand, that people are concerned by the difficulties and suffering faced by vulnerable people; that many, like you, do truly care,
What a privilege it is to be at the "coal-face" and to distribute freely the products of YOUR amazing generosity and love for others.
We hope you will visit the Children of Fire www.charitysa.co.za/children-of-fire.html website and find encouragement in the beautiful story of Dorah and in reading of the incredible work done by this fantastic group of people which, like KAS, is supported and funded by the generosity of people who care !!!