The winter has only started and Masiphumelele has seen already one of the most horrible fires ever. The first desperate calls had reached our home by 2.45 hrs at night, when several residents were most upset that even an hour after the fire had started still not enough fire trucks were there. Due to windy conditions glowing sparks were spread and like never before, even many newly built brick houses caught fire.
When I phoned the Fish Hoek Fire Station all trucks were out. At the central Cape Town Fire Control Station in Goodwood, I was told that at least another 15 trucks were on the way to Masiphumelele. Why did many of them only reach late some of the most needy spots?
None of the courageous Fire Fighters should be blamed. What had happened was in fact that (as with several disasters before) this community of estimated 35-40.000 residents has just ONE access road: The quite narrowPokela Road, coming fromKommetjie Road. Can you imagine about 20 huge Fire Trucks, about 10 Ambulance vehicles and 10 Police cars all trying to get in at the same time ? Trying to get to the urgent spots, to reverse and move in and out as needed in any disaster, especially when there is also personnel being not familiar with the narrow roads in Masi ? It means chaos, it means delay – it means the irresponsible risk of human lives.
Since more than three years, we try to get a second access road via Fish Eagle Park (from Kommetjie Road) on the other side of the otherwise fully enclosed township. Our local Councillor, whom I generally respect for her good work, keeps telling us that everybody agrees to the urgent need for a second access, but that the proper process needs to be followed, and that there is not enough funding allocated. This morning, on the scene of the disaster, she confirmed that it would need probably another two years until such a second access road will be built.
In fact, just three big rocks need to be removed and at least a gravel road access could be used right now for the time being. It worked, when we needed access with big cranes during the construction of the first buildings of Amakhaya ngoku. But then it was closed again, because the plan is opposed by ONE owner who does not want to have traffic in front of his garden. This is understandable from his perspective. But it is just not acceptable to risk the lives of hundreds of people for one person to enjoy his quiet garden. Like in all conflicts, one might need to find a compensation for this one person, but it should not hold up the process any longer.
The winter has only begun. The next fire will come, especially in the wetlands area where people live more crowded than ever. I will advise all angry and desperate residents again not to shout at the Fire Fighters, but to vote on 18 May only for those who are able to develop a plan to remove three rocks and change a gravel into a proper tarred second access road for Masi – now.
Dr Lutz van Dijk,