Children of Fire has been working in Joe Slovo squatter camp, Johannesburg, for more than five years. The focus has been on First Aid training with St John's Ambulance, Fire Fighting training with Brixton Fire Brigade as well as fire prevention, St John's home based care, and a host of other initiatives (see Community Work section of website).
There were only very small, localised, fires in 2002 and none in January 2003, but Children of Fire maintained constant vigilance and weekly safety reminders to the community there. Every week throughout 2002 we distributed 300-500 health-advice newspapers obtained from LoveLife and similar organisations.
Three more residents were trained in fire fighting and fire prevention during the course of 2002.
Members of the non-political community group Emang Slovo were given safety candle holders in which the candle floats in water and is extinguished if the holder is knocked over. Despite this, one woman used the holder without any water and it then melted!
In July 2001 there were two big fires (see also Water Tanks section of website). The trainees worked well with the official fire fighters and kept losses to a minimum. Early reports of a baby dying on July 15th later proved false, but in the second fire on July 28th 2001 a boy aged four years old suffered flames burns on his chest, trunk, right cheek and right hand. Thabiso Phosa was taken initially to Coronation Hospital and later transferred to the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital where he remained until the end of 2001. Our sister charity The Dorah Mokoena Charitable Trust funded gifts for him as well as medical and other support when he left hospital, and transport costs for his relatives to visit him. Thabiso was visiting his aunt and uncle in the squatter camp for the winter holidays as well as other relatives living in Hillbrow. His mother Sewella was still finishing her schooling in the Louis Trichardt area and could not spend time with her child until after her matriculation examinations.
On the same day that Thabiso was burned, another little boy sleeping between his parents, was shot dead by a drunk in a neighbouring shack. Kearabetswe Montlwadi was just five years old.
Alcohol is the major root cause of violence, fires and malnutrition in the camp.
On August 7th 2001, Children of Fire met with Transnet, the owner of the land on which the squatter camp has been built. We sought their co-operation to transfer the land to a Section 21 (not for profit) company that would have members of the squatter camp community on its board as well as other people prepared to offer their skills pro bono to help the residents. These would include lawyers who could help with conveyancing work; town planners, etc.
It was then estimated that the commercial value of the occupied land was some R750,000, and the rates payable on it each month by Transnet were about R3400. If the illegal landlording could be prevented at Joe Slovo, the community as a whole would be more than able to pay the rates due. Some residents rent out shacks to other people for R300 a month and some landlords own more than 15 shacks. The illegal landlords have no interest in living conditions improving at Joe Slovo because it would remove their income and some of them have threatened Children of Fire, its representatives and trainees, particularly from August to December 2001 and continuing throughout 2002. This had led to criminal charges being filed at Brixton SAPS for intimidation against a political committee's members (case 219.9.01) and statements have been taken that also allege vicarious responsibility belongs to an elected official in the area. There is also a linked malicious damage to property case. The police showed extreme reluctance to pursue any of the cases.
Children of Fire had requested that the social development section of Transnet should consider building an ablution block for the residents to replace unhygenic chemical toilets with proper facilities attached to the main drainage. Such an ablution block should also include showers for men and women and an area where clothes can be washed and dried, to generate employment for at least some of the scores of unemployed women living there. Transnet said in 2000/2001 that it could not assist with such facilities because they would be permanent infrastructure on its land - on land that the company would clearly have to dispose off in the future.
Curiously, nonetheless, some sector of local government went ahead with a poor copy of Children of Fire's idea, installing too-shallow and insufficient gradient plastic-pipe drainage through the camp, which the residents were paid R60 a metre to dig and install - seemingly without any professional supervision. There are no man-holes to inspect the drainage as it passes through the camp.
Also the water pressure is so low to the taps that only one can be used at a time. Queues for water remain a daily feature of Joe Slovo life and when a tap washer fails there seems no one inclined or able to fix it.
Flush toilets were installed and on the Coronation side of the camp there was an immediate problem of theft of components including toilet seats. Then there were allegations that a so-called sanitation committee and that a political committee were padlocking individual toilets for their personal use!
Hygienic use of toilets was not understood by all the users.
The toilets at the Ashanti road (Crosby) end of the camp were built directly under the trees. This is a poor location because the extensive root network will create repeated problems for the sanitation system.
At a meeting between Children of Fire and various council officials on September 18th 2002, photographs of illegal installation of permanent infrastructure on private land were shown, that had been taken the same morning. All present (including people from Region 4 and two people from Transnet) denied all knowledge of the installations! By February 2003 there had still been no follow-up meeting.
People helped us to help the squatters who lost all their possessions after big fires. Donations included 35 saucepans via Ian McClean and Lions; towels and clothes from Howard Johnston of Rosebank Rotary; clothes and 40 blankets from Investec Cradle Group and individual donations from Bronwen Jones, her immediate neighbours in Auckland Park, Niva Waldeck, Louise Aarts, Carolyn Projansky and Melodie Sinton-Hewitt.
Disaster Management also provided blankets and Rehanna, a woman associated with a political party, called on the neighbouring Moslem organisations to assist with soup and bread in the short term. David Oliphant, police commissioner for Brixton, provided some fifty old-style SAPS jackets to people who had lost their homes.
Donations were distributed as fairly as possible to people who had lost possessions. As far as we are aware there was only one significant misdirection of resources. This was through a woman called Martha, who decided that she and her family should live in the crèche shack to supervise the handling of donations - even though it later became clear that she had lost nothing in the fire. Martha managed to secure five SAPS jackets for her relatives and other clothing as well.
To the best of our knowledge, the people (and their shack nos) who lost their possessions in the first fire were: Aaron Rambuda (314), Dorah Rambuda (314), Maggie Rambuda (314), Freddy Rambuda (314) Chihilo Rambuda (314) Thsulufelo Rambuda (314), Mamunuani Modise, Daniel Lefu Radebe, Tebugo Mokoena (315), Aron Sibiya (316), Marli Shabangu (316b), George Makoloko (318a), Alex Ndlovu (319), Liliehi Liburu (320), Suzani Molawuli (320a), Siguphutso (320b), Gladdysi Modise (300a), Bricks Jonas Migwa (320a), Rafad Shangu (320), Peter Tsime (300a), Gloria Raphuleng (318b), Saule Libonu (318), Japhi Libonu (318), Priscila Sirebule (321), Johannes Silothego (361a), Masigo Modisane (361a), Neo Moremeli, David Hlomelang, Thabo Khayile, Michael Mafukeng (322), Christina Mofokeng (322), Joyce Limtsi (320c), Jacob Tseko (320b), Hilda Habanakhosi (320c), Vivian Habanakhosi (320c), Joseph Lieto (320c), Lazarus Tlou (357), Nofenishola Konfo (358), Sharewell Mthlali (358), Ellen Mutsalina (367b), Prince Mpenduleni (364), Faniel Ragwali (364b), Bakang Joseph Mpenduleni (365), Bakeng Habankhosi (367a), Phillimon Nemakhonde (367), Cecilia Totse (366), Tso (367a), Joseph Mukwebo (364), Elizabeth Masibi (316), Gert Tume (318) and David Tume (318).
In the second fire, the people who lost many or all of their possessions were: Lindiwe Monnemang (147), Alfred Monnemang (147a) Linda Monnemang (147b), Dineo Mannemang (147b), Patrick Sedumedi (155), Ndaki Ntantiso (147a), Noswephi Ntantiso (147a), Ntombi Dumiso (147c), Lindiwe (147c), Seawater (147c), Sthembiso (147c), Molefe (146), Sophie Tswaile (148), Ben Tswaile (148), Portia Mukhosi (151), Manomo (151a), Keaboka Mukhosi (151b), Mmapule Sithudu (153a), Ubakeng Liepho (148e), Mkani (148c), Buc Moloi (148), John Silabeli (147a), Shadrick Rakhometsi (151b), Daniel Simusa (148), Edwin Ntshidi (143c), Bobi Lojani (145), William Sinaphani (154), Simon Moemeleng (140), Suzan Moemeleng (140), Cindy Moemeleng (140), Betty Moemeleng (141a), Jack Moemeleng (141a), Palal Mtali (143), Senah Abi (143a), Eddy Abi (143a), Maria Abi (143a), Robert Mayimere (142), Rosinha Malafti (142), Joshua Malafti (142), Joyce Mahloko (148c), David Mohloko (148c), Pam Mtili (143), Michael Koikoi (141), Maltatsi Koikoi (141), Mahlo Mtambo (144e), Selina, Alfred Maanciwana (144), James Phosa (144b), Merila Phosa (144b), Bongiwe Maanelwana (144), Simon Mhlongo (144d), Dudu Ngwenya (144c), Nothando Buthelezi (144c), Zindela Ndabenzima (144a).
James Phosa is the uncle of Thabiso, the little boy hospitalised with his chest burns. James burned his leg while rescuing him and was briefly hospitalised for a breakdown/depression after the incident. Children of Fire later secured him employment on four days a week.
Helping people to rebuild their lives continued more than 30 months after the fires. There is little official help available but fortunately we estimate that half the people affected have some sort of employment, even if it is only piece jobs (part-time work). Families like the Rambudas lost of lot including gas fridges, two generators, liquor and sewing machines, but they still own a lot elsewhere and have a steady income from landlording. They run businesses in Thoyandu and do not need to live in squatter camps at all.
There was a further small fire around 11am on Friday September 14, 2001. This occurred because a woman called Betty left her primus stove on while she went to play cards. Three shacks were burned but swift use of the firefighting water tank prevented any more widespread damage. Children of Fire called Brixton fire brigade to refill the water tank the next morning, which they gladly did.
Cnitsi Masoko and George Seretsi Mokamane, both from one affected shack (no 335) were each given two blankets from Children of Fire (sourced from the Investec Cradle Group). Betty has been hospitalised for a breakdown - possibly because her neighbours had suggested that she must pay for their possessions damaged by her alleged preoccupation with gambling.
On Tuesday September 18 2001, at noon, the water supply was cut off at the camp for unknown reasons and we were fearful that people might use the firefighting water as nothing else was available for their general use.
In December 2001 ten additional firefighting water tanks were to have been donated to the community. Despite pleas direct to the office of Amos Masondo, Mayor of Johannesburg, troublemakers David Masilo and his accomplice Thomas, chased the R50,000 donation away. The ward councillor was alleged to have told them to prevent delivery and a request to him to co-operate in the safety initiative by Marvi Phanyane of the Mayor's office, was ignored. The police were ineffective in handling the incident as it was simply a small group of inebriated unarmed people with two less-than inspired ringleaders, toyitoyi-ing (dancing to and fro) and another sober serious group of the same size saying that they really did want the tanks delivered.
Children of Fire subsequently gave the tanks to Benoni and the Alexandra.