Patricia Ndou stood silently with a friend’s baby strapped to her back. She and her two girls, both under four years old, escaped with the clothes on their backs.
Stunned by the carnage, Ndou could only wave her hand vaguely in the direction of twisted metal, charred support poles and still smoking rubble and shrug when asked, ‘what now?’
Department of social development employees were at the scene handing out blankets and soup and bread to affected residents, many of whom have said they are staying in the area because they don’t want to lose their stands. Johannesburg emergency management services’ Nana Radebe said two engines had been sent to control the blaze.
“This is the busiest time of year for us,” Radebe said. People who slept with candles burning, or a brazier, or used a paraffin stove for heat while they slept, were likely to be the source of a fire, Radebe said.
Adults pulled rusty and heatwarped corrugated iron from the debris while children stood around silently in the winter sun. As they warmed up, so did the mix of water and rubbish which released noxious fumes to intermingle with the rotting bloated corpses of rats.
“It is the mandate of the Department of Social Development and its agency, Sassa [South African Social Security Agency], to bring relief to distressed families or communities, (sic)” said the department’s spokesperson Olifant Lumke in response to an e-mail requesting more information.
There were also representatives from the cooperative governance and traditional aff airs fi re and rescue services wandering around with serious faces – however, no comment was available.
There were no injuries as a direct result of the fire, unlike Orange Farm where five toddlers died as a result of smoke inhalation. At the end of June, 70 homes were razed to the ground in Denver in the south of Johannesburg, leaving 90 people homeless.