Posted by: Andries Louw | 13 January 2010

Fire destroys shacks in Alexandra

This morning I heard on the news that a fire destroyed a number of shacks in Alexandra township. I live in Linbro Park which is just across the N3 highway from Alex. I went to the Alexandra Fire Station to obtain more information. The day staff had the details in their log book. It happened shortly after midnight at no 62 Eighth Avenue. The cause of the fire was still unknown. When I arrived at the scene around 11:00 am one man told me that between 20 and 30 shacks were destroyed.

It was a sea of bent currugated iron sheets, charcoaled wood and other unrecognisable objects on a bed of black ash. Local residents were working hard to clean up after the fire. These men were pushing objects away in an effort to open up some space. Others were dragging out damaged sheets of corrugated iron, used as shack walls and roofs. Already some “new” planks and poles were being erected which seemed to be corner beams for new shacks.

This lady (photo right) told me it was the fifth time she had lost everything, either because of a fire or a flood. She was trying to salvage what she could of her precious few posessions. She pulled out a piece of her floor, the bottom of a plastic bucket melted into it, with white grains of maize meal etched off against the black ashes. That picture, along with the one below symbolised to me the plight of millions in our country and around the globe to whom the words “Give us today our daily bread” are very real.

The tapes in this photo are probably the most valuable items she could take with her after the fire.

This man was able to retrieve a primus stove, used for cooking. At his feet are the remains of a mattress.

Whatever could not be used any more was stacked onto this pile of rubbish.

These corrugated iron sheets, used as shack walls and roofs, were so bent and damaged by the fire that they became useless. They were dumped on the pavement to be taken away later.

Later in the day I called one of my friends who lives in Alex. He told me that some help already started arriving although the details were unclear. I am planning to go there again within the next hour along with a friend from Linbro Park.

Although nobody died or was injured, this fire was a grim reminder to me of the huge challenges we face regarding housing and poverty. It seems to be a never-ending cycle that will never be broken. But it must challenge us to ask questions about our own lifestyle and about our solidarity with vulnerable people.



  1. I just returned from my second visit to the scene and was amazed at how quickly people started to rebuild their shacks. I will post some more photos as soon as I have a chance.

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