Masiphumelele Fire update | December 2015

We’ve been a little quiet on reporting about the recent fire in Masi where 4000 people lost their homes and possessions. For those outside of the local area, Please be in contact if you would like to contribute financially, pray more consistently, or find out more information.

This is the informal section of Masi that is built out onto the wetlands and floods regularly in the winter. Unlike the area known as ‘Masi proper’ which in our 5 years here has had a considerable upgrade through brick houses, reliable electricity and roads, the wetlands has no infrastructure and it built up with corrugate iron small shacks one after the other. Fires are a common occurrence in the area and are normally devastating as the fire moves quickly between wooden framed shacks filled with clothes (often 4+ people living in one room), the corrugate metal creates intense heat and without roads no fire engines can reach them and they must be put out though throwing buckets of water.

The All Nations Church Family that Rachel and I help to lead co-ordinated with other local churches and NGO’s and centralised a response through a ministry called Living Hope which has a specialised disaster relief team. Local communities have donated so many clothes that they have asked for no more. Many of our team members and church family joined in sorting the resources.

Here is an update from their leader John Thomas;

I haven’t been able to update you all on the Masiphumelele fire victims and relief effort for a couple of days as a result of a lack of time, so here goes with the latest as at Friday evening at 8pm.

Let me update you on the site area of the fire and then on the goods and clothing and donated stuff.

Late this afternoon the first home kits arrived from the City of Cape Town. This is enough to build a 3 metre by 3 metre home which has walls, a door, a window and obviously a roof. This comes complete with nails and locks and is given out free of charge to the 1163 claimants of having owned a shack in the area although only 899 families were formally registered as having had a shack in the area.

It is a mammoth task just bringing in around 1200 home kits – this alone will take 3 days and so this will probably thus be completed by Monday some time. I have attached a couple of close up photos of the home kits.

However the site itself, being in the wetlands has become fairly water logged with the compaction effect of the trucks and bulldozers working on site for the last 6 days. This heavy machinary has had a sponge effect and has brought all the water up to the surface which now means more fill material has had to be brought in so that there can be ground to build on which is sort of dry! This water rising to the surface was unforseen and has delayed the process. However the dry part where kits are being handed out, has water just below the surface as you will see from one of the photos where a hole has been dug for an electric pole to be placed there.

I have attached a number of photos of the clearing of the site, the fleet of trucks involved in clearing the fire debris, the bulldozers at work and the levelled site with filled sand. You will also see areas that still need fill where if a shack were to be built today they would be building in a pool of water.

R5.6m which is about US $400,000 is being sought so that every one of these homes can be painted with a fire retardent paint. That together with the fire lanes which are being created will hopefully significantly reduce the likelihood of another large fire in this part of Masiphumelele. Nothing is foolproof in this type of overcrowding and poverty, but these measures are helpful and significantly will reduce the risk. The real answer, however, is not rebuilding the shacks but finding available serviced land where proper homes can be built. That will cost Millions and of course human nature says – ‘Not In My Back Yard’ both of which severly complicate the likelihood of finding suitable land and funding for this to be done. However despite the multitude of very significant problems with building proper homes, we have to push ahead and advocate until a solution is found where people can have the dignity of their own safe and secure home. I believe that with God all things are possible.

Now to the overwelming outpouring of donations from poor and rich individuals, families, organizations both secular and Christian, churches, non-profits, businesses, City of Cape Town and government. The deluge of giving has been a striking expression of generosity and extravagance. Our Chapel at Living Hope was been completely inundated with truck loads of new and 2nd hand goods. There is no form of compassion fatigue here at all! I am left stunned by overwelming generosity. You will see the various photos of the Chapel being filled up to 2 metres high with goods. This has all been sorted and packed in hundreds of boxes and bags. The Chapel has undergone various phases of sorting processes this past week and the last part of the process is creating food buckets. You will see some photos of this in Green Checkers bags and loads of buckets. Four hundred and twenty ‘baby buckets’ were created for Moms with children under the age of 2. Several hundred ‘basic necessities’ buckets were created with basic home goods like crockery, cutlery, hygiene products, towell etc. Another Christian organization is preparing a thousand similar buckets for delivery. My guess is that the buckets of goods created at Living Hope easily will exceed two thousand buckets. And then there has been the one thousand mattresses donated and loads of bedding and blankets. Truck loads of food, sweets and cold drinks has arrived from various companies as a result of radio stations, individuals drives, church collections and social media drives.

So when will all this be distrubuted is the question? Well obviously not until people have their homes in which they can place these goods. That seems to be likely in about 3 days time. We could possibly distribute as people get their houses up but the community leaders feel that this may cause complications and jealousy. We will be guided by the leaders of the Masiphumelele community on the timing of the distribution. In the meantime because of the length of time without clothes etc an interim distribution of clothing has been done in Masiphumelele.

Having sorted and boxed all the clothing, blankets, bedding, household and personal effects, it has been stored in one of our very large vacant vegetable greenhouses and this will be emptied as people come and collect their goods once their homes are ready.

SO WE DO NOT NEED ANY MORE CLOTHES AND PERSONAL EFFECTS. The generosity of people has been so exceptional that I am confident all will be able to be clothed and that sorting process is now completed. All that is still needed is dry foodstuffs, small packs of salt and sugar and stationary supplies for school. This can be dropped off at Living Hope, Kommetjie Road, Capri.

In the middle of all of this we have our annual Living Hope Carol service on Sunday evening at 6pm, led this year by Jennifer Eaves, together with the switching on of the Christmas tree lights of hope. There is still time to purchase and donate a ‘globe of hope’ at R50! You can do this on Sunday evening. But a brand new special event this year is our “Journey to Bethlehem” which is a walking tour of 7 stations of the Journey of Jesus’s life. You will love this and the kids havent seen anything like this before. All are invited to join us from 6pm (6th December) when groups of people will leave every 5 minutes on this tour of stations! The last group will leave at 7pm and then the Carols start at 7.30pm with the Christmas tree lights being turned on at 8.20pm. Bring a picnic basket and enjoy this time together.

On Monday we will begin the distribution process of goods and clothing. Volunteers are needed Saturday to pack buckets, move goods and help reorientate Living Hope to something of what it looked liked before the fire goods started to arrive. I have been very aware that the very first Christmas also had a story of overcrowding and homelessness and the need for compassion. Living Hope has hardly got anymore room and that was certainly the case at the very first Christmas. It adds a great dimension to Sunday’s Carol service!

Finally many people have given financially to the Masiphumelele fire victims by going to and following the prompts. You can still do this wherever you are.

From all involved in helping to break the despair that this tragic fire has brought and to each one of you who has sort to bring hope into people’s lives – thank-you ever so much. I am a proud South African – we are an amazing nation.

We are still looking for a clear way to receive funds for non-direct ministry costs like this1, but if you are unable to give through the living hope link above, please contact us directly.

  1. The way our finances are processed precludes us from acting as a channel for non-direct living/ministry costs like this unfortunately. 

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