Joe Slovo is a shack settlement in the township of Langa in Cape Town. Around 3 500 people live there without proper sanitation or infrastructure. They depend on communal taps for water and portable toilets for sanitation – the state of some is inhumane. When a fire broke out over the Easter weekend, about 500 families lost their homes in the devastation.
“The Joe Slovo informal settlement in Cape Town has faced the recurrent threat of fire over the past decade, a risk aggravated by poverty, inadequate infrastructure and the ongoing influx of informal residents.” This is an excerpt from a research paper by the Disaster Mitigation for Sustainable Livelihoods Programme at the University of Cape Town, published in 2002.
22 April 2022: The shack settlement in Langa, Cape Town, is named after former housing minister and communist leader Joe Slovo.
The sentiment is no different on the ground, with residents citing poverty and a lack of infrastructure as the reasons for the recurring fires in the settlement. Residents and community leaders in Joe Slovo have been fighting for the development of the area since 2008. In 2007, residents stood up to forced removals to Delft, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town. Some have been waiting to be allocated an RDP house for more than a decade or longer.
These are the people and families starting from scratch again after the most recent fire.
22 April 2022: The fire ripped through Zone 31, Area K of Joe Slovo on 16 April, leaving families destitute. Community leaders say 500 families have been affected. Left: 22 April 2022: The City of Cape Town promised to clean up the fire debris but has not done so. Residents who can afford to buy materials have started rebuilding ahead of the cold and rainy winter season, but the City has not helped supply those who cannot afford it with building material. Right:
3 April 2022: Sulungwa Sodlulashe, 22, has lived in Joe Slovo since 2015. When she arrived with her mother, they rented a shack in the area. Sodlulashe has seven-month-old twins and sought her own home because of a lack of space at her mother’s house. She was staying with her mother’s friend when the fire broke out. Ever since the fire, one of her twins has cried throughout the night. Left: 22 April 2022: Miniyakhe Bityoshe, 51, has been living in Joe Slovo since 1997. He was approved for an RDP house in 2014 but has still not received it. Bityoshe says he and his family would not be in this situation had they been living in an RDP house. It is the second time they have fallen victim to a fire in the area. Right:
24 April 2022: Nontombi Mjikazela, 30, has been trying to apply for an RDP house but is told that the system does not approve her. Her shack burnt down while she was visiting family in the Eastern Cape for Easter. She lost everything, including her identity document, her child’s birth certificate and her South African Social Security Agency card. Her family had to send her money for material to rebuild her shack.
24 April 2022: There were only eight shacks when Mpumelelo Lunguza, 59, and Monica Mxinjana, 58, arrived in Joe Slovo in 1991. They lost most of their furniture in the fire and only managed to save some clothing. The couple is unemployed and cannot afford to rebuild yet. They have been waiting for an RDP house since approval in 1994. Left: 24 April 2022: Nomazizi Tostile, 57, moved to Joe Slovo in 1999 looking for work in Cape Town. She and her family were moved in 2015 from the area of the shack settlement in which they were living for it to be developed under the Housing Development Agency’s N2 Gateway Housing Project. She applied for an RDP house in 2010 and was approved in 2016, but is still waiting to be given a home. She was in the Eastern Cape when the fire broke out. Her two granddaughters were able to retrieve some of her belongings. Family members helped her buy building material and build a new shack. Tostile says the quality of life in Joe Slovo is bad. Water and access to it is an issue. It takes 15 minutes for her and her family to walk to the nearest tap with running water and they have to fetch water four times a day. Right:
24 April 2022: The residents of Joe Slovo who do not have electricity use alternatives such as paraffin, which catches fire easily.
23 April 2022: Residents attend a church service in Joe Slovo. Church group Universal says it wants to uplift the community during this time of loss. Left: 23 April 2022: A church group holds prayer sessions with different households in the shack settlement. Right:
22 April 2022: Residents wait to receive donations of toiletries.
22 April 2022: Children do backflips on a discarded mattress. Some residents are concerned that debris will affect the children’s health.
25 April 2022: Resident Athi Memani, 30, manages a soup kitchen and runs a crèche in Joe Slovo. She says parents are not obliged to pay fees because many of them don’t have jobs. Memani and an assistant teacher look after 20 children during the day. Without running water and flushing toilets, the crèche has to use a bucket system for the children. They soak the potties and buckets as often as they can during crèche hours.
23 April 2022: The Siyakhathala Family Soup Kitchen began by serving Christmas lunch to the residents of Joe Slovo. When Covid-19 hit and the government instituted the first lockdown in March 2020, Suleimaan Soeker, the main donor of the kitchen, saw the need to continue serving food to residents. The kitchen has been central to families since the recent fire to get their meals for the day, which means demand has become high, says manager Athi Memani (pictured). Left: 22 April 2022: Siyakhathala members prepare supper for residents affected by the fire and others in need. The kitchen has become a place of refuge in Joe Slovo. Right:
23 April 2022: Olwethu Joseph Olifant, 31, is the co-founder of a non-governmental organisation called Let’s Come Together. It runs outreach programmes in Langa and collects clothes and other basic items for families who lost their homes and possessions in the fire. Olifant is pictured at his N2 Gateway Housing Project home in Langa. Left: 23 April 2022: Let’s Come Together member Qhamani Nande Xameni, 20, packs donations into a trolley to deliver to Joe Slovo residents. Right:
25 April 2022: Joe Slovo residents rely on communal portable toilets known as Mshengu toilets after the company that supplies them. A group of women clean the toilets every day and a truck comes to the shack settlement four days a week to empty them. Community leaders say the toilets have not been upgraded in a while and pose a safety issue for girls and women, and a general hygiene issue for residents.
22 April 2022: Some Joe Slovo residents had to take out loans to buy building material after the fire.
23 April 2022: Residents repurpose some of the material from their burnt homes to build new ones.
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