The devastating fire at Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay over two days in March was one of the worst informal settlement disasters ever dealt with by the City.
But the upside is an agreement between community leaders, residents and the City to properly implement ‘superblocking’, which will provide a more structured, safer, healthier and far better environment for the 19 000 settlement residents.
On 11 and 12 March 2017, a large section of Imizamo Yethu was devastated by fires that killed three people, affected 2 194 structures and displaced 9 700 people. It was one of the most devastating informal settlement fires in Cape Town’s recent history and was followed by a second fire a month later, on Sunday 16 April, which razed 112 structures and displaced 425 people.
In its 25 year history, Imizamo Yethu has frequently been ravaged by fire, generally for the same reasons: widespread use of candles and paraffin for lighting and cooking, structures built so close together that flames jump from one to the other, and little or no access for emergency vehicles. This time, the circumstances of the fire and fighting it were little different – but the rebuilding was a complete departure from previous efforts.
For the first time, an informal settlement community agreed to rebuild according to the City’s ‘superblocking’ principles, where structures are rebuilt in such a way as to provide access for emergency vehicles and the provision of utilities. Superblocking will help prevent devastating fires in future.
In the aftermath of the fire, displaced residents were housed in temporary accommodation at several locations while the site was cleared, the blocks were laid out, services installed and structures rebuilt – itself a huge undertaking.
Although it came at great human and financial cost, the rebuilt section of Imizamo Yethu will be a safer, healthier place and the partnership with the community provides a model for how the City will manage similar incidents in the future.