Shack fires in South Africa

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Fire is a serious hazard in shack settlements in South Africa.[1] It has been argued that "On average in South Africa over the last five years there are ten shack fires a day with someone dying in a shack fire every other day."[2] In 2011, 151 were reported to have been killed in shack fires in Cape Town.[3] It was reported that in 2014 2 090 people burned to death in the Gauteng province, "many of them in shack fires that sweep through informal settlements".[4]

Causes of Shack Fires[edit]

Shack fires are often termed accidents but this has been contested by shack dweller's organisations.[5] Martin J. Murray argues that by "recruiting human frailty or sheer accident to their cause, key city-builders have been able to rationalize municipal policy-choices that have accomplished little toward changing the circumstances under which the urban poor—who bear the awful brunt of these continuing cycles of death and destruction — tend to invariably find themselves in harm’s way."[6]

Matt Birkinshaw lists the key reasons for shack fires as lack of land, lack of housing, denial of access to electricity, adequate water and to adequate emergency services.[7]

Responses to Shack Fires[edit]

The charitable NGO 'Children of Fire' offers support for victims of fires, and in particular to children.[8]

The shack dwellers' social movement Abahlali baseMjondolo has campaigned against what it perceives as the failure of the state to address the problem of shack fires[9] and organised people to connect themselves directly to the electricity grid.[10][11]

Further reading[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ A Big Devil in the Jondolos: A report on shack fires, by Matt Birkinshaw, Abahlali baseMjondolo, 2008
  2. ^ The Politics of Fire, Matt Birkinshaw, Pambazuka, 2008
  3. ^ Are some Cape Town fires hotter than others?, Rebecca Davis, Daily Maverick, 2015
  4. ^ This is how South Africa dies, Richard Poplak, The Daily Maverick, 2015
  5. ^ Shack Fires are No Accident, School of Development Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, 2005
  6. ^ Fire and Ice: Unnatural Disasters and the Disposable Urban Poor in Post-Apartheid Johannesburg, by Martin J. Murray, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp. 165–192, March 2009
  7. ^ The Politics of Fire, Matt Birkinshaw, Pambazuka, 2008
  8. ^ About Children of Fire, Children of Fire, undated
  9. ^ Collection of statements on shack fires by Abahlali baseMjondolo
  10. ^ 'Getting electricity was so exciting', The Guardian (UK), 2011
  11. ^ “Where there is fire, there is politics”: Ungovernability and Material Life in Urban South Africa, Kerry Chance, Cultural Anthropology, 2015