WALVIS BAY – Devastating shack fires ravaged through the coast on Friday, killing at least one person and displacing more than 20 families in Swakopmund and Walvis Bay.
The latest incidents once again highlight the continuous challenges residents in informal settlements face due to a lack of housing. The families not only lost their homes but national documents, schoolbooks, stationery, and goods they were selling as a means of survival. Kuisebmond resident Festus Kalondo (18) died on Friday evening when his shack caught fire while he was busy cooking.
“The fire quickly spread to two more shacks but firefighters managed to control it, Inspector Ileni Shapumba of the Erongo police said on Saturday. Earlier the same day, a fire also displaced 16 families living closely at the Democratic Resettlement Community (DRC) informal settlement in
Swakopmund. A minor boy allegedly lit a match and threw it into a gas cooker. As a result, the shack caught fire and spread to surrounding shacks. At least 33 shacks burnt down, however, some were not occupied at the time of the fire. According to Shapumba, a sister of the minor boy tried to extinguish the fire but it was too overwhelming.
Eveline Kharugas, who had three shacks in her yard, told New Era yesterday that she lost everything. “Both me and my husband are pensioners and have been making a living from selling second-hand goods and wood.
We lost about N$300 000 worth of goods including furniture, stock, cash and valuable items we have gathered through the years,” a sad Kharugas said. She also expressed her disappointment towards other residents of the settlement who were standing and filming instead of assisting to put out the fire.
“It was disheartening to see how people were standing and laughing while our belongings are being destroyed. It was horrifying and sad,” Kharugas said. Another fire victim, William Julius, said he was not home when the fire happened. “I was at work when I got that dreadful call that my shack has been destroyed by fire,” he said.
According to him, they are now at the mercy of Good Samaritans. “I don’t even know how we will rebuild our home,” he said. Selma Eibes, who is also a former fire victim, said that she is living in constant fear.
“One minute you have shelter, the next minute all is gone. That is life in DRC. Many of us when such fires occur are not at home maybe that is fate,” she added.
Formalisation of DRC
Meanwhile, the fire victims appealed to the Swakopmund municipality to make water and electricity more accessible to the local community. “We have been living for more than 15 years in DRC. We have been told that the formalisation is coming. It is yet to reach us.” They are of the opinion that they wouldn’t have to deal with shack fires if they had access to electricity. “Change really needs to happen for the residents of DRC, we have been pleading for houses, water and electricity for years. We hope that this fire highlights the challenges we face as DRC residents,” they said. Swakopmund mayor Louisa Kativa on Friday said that the 16 families will temporarily be accommodated at the Mondesa sport stadium, while a better solution is being explored. A meeting between the Swakopmund municipality and the fire victims was due to take place yesterday to discuss the future of the victims. The DRC informal settlement came in existence in 2001 as a temporary resettlement community for people waiting for subsidised housing. It is home to thousands of families that have been hoping to secure decent housing.