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ANALYSIS: Western Cape Shack Fire situation explained (Words by Bruce Oom)

March 23, 2013

The Western Cape had a net increase of 1.3 million people from 2001 to 2011, and the Province only has enough budget from the National Government to build around 15 000 houses and 10 000 service sites a year. That equates to around 25 000 housing opportunities. With an average increase of 130 000 people a year into the Western Cape, primarily because there are better basic services, education, job opportunities, health and others, there is simply not enough budget to build everyone a house. Many of the in-migrants come looking for job opportunities, and therefore try and live as close to the economic centres, being the City of Cape Town, or Stellenbosch, as possible, and this leads to land invasion and high density informal settlements.

The people can’t just be moved, as there is strict legislation governing the eviction and relocation of people in settlements. As a result, shacks are often built very close to each other, and this makes access of fire services difficult when fires break out, and also means fires spread very quickly. When settlements are formalised or reorganised, the resulting densities are less, and this means that some people have to be relocated, and this relocation of some community members is often met with a lot of resistance.

The local municipalities are primarily responsible for housing plans for the areas, and then the provincial government will allocate funding. One of the major constraints is the provision of bulk infrastructure. Stellenbosch has been allocated about R1.5 billion over the next ten years for bulk infrastructure, yet has a backlog costing around R3 billion. This was recently reported in the Cape Argus. Housing cannot be formalised until infrastructure, such as water and sanitation, is  installed. At minimum, it takes around 5 years for a housing project to go from conceptualisaton to completion.

Some local municipalities and metros under the DA have made huge progress in providing better services. JP Smith, a member of Cape Town’s Safety and Security Committee, pointed out that since his party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), secured political power in Cape Town in 2006, large-scale investment had greatly improved the provision of emergency services in the city. “We have more than doubled the number of firemen from 450 to 980 since 2006, and our fire mortality rate is down from 7.9 per 100,000 in 2006 to 4.3 per 100,000 today. We are doing much better, and the bulk of the gains are in informal settlements” said Cllr Smith.

Finally, many fires can be prevented due to electrification, yet this is a national problem. Durban, for example, in 2001, made a decision not to electrify any more informal settlements.

The Provincial Department of Local Government has a number of programs, namely the Fire and Flood Awareness Campaign, Climate Change and Smart Living Plays, Basic Education Toolkit – Risk Reduction, the Public Information Officer Course; Community Work Programme: Fire Reduction and Immediate Care; and the Fire and Life Safety Course. KE

Bruce Oom, is the Spokesman for Bonginkosi Madikizela, the Minister of Human Settlements in the Western Cape Government

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One Comment
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