Five left homeless after shack fire

By Maria Hamutenya and Rosalia David

A family of five was left homeless and destitute after the shack they lived in for 11 years at the Single Quarters was razed to the ground in a rapid blaze over the weekend. Juliana Kaurangerua (32), who lives with her partner and their three children, said she found the house on flames when she returned home from a nearby shop.

“I was cooking and then the electricity got finished, so I went out to go buy electricity for N$20, forgetting to switch off the stove. However, the people renting in the house managed to get the electricity back on while I was gone,” Kaurangerua said.

Kaurangerua fell victim for hordes of shack fire causing wreaking havoc to the poor in informal settlements.

The increase in the number of shack fires can be attributed mostly to the growing urban population that lack access to serviced land, the lack of proper housing structures and access to electricity, as well as the widespread lack of adequate water supply and adequate emergency services in the shantytowns.

On her return Kaurangerua found the house on fire, but it was too late to salvage the shack as it had already destroyed everything inside. “A few of our neighbours came to put down the fire and so by the time the fire brigade arrived at the scene, everything was already demolished in the shack,” Kaurangerua stressed. Although she managed to rescue her identification document, she said her family is now left with nothing and were dependent on the kindness of their neighbours.

In the ash heap that was once their home, everything had burned to cinders except a bottle of cooking oil. “We now live inside the house where we were offered a small corner to sleep while we get back on our feet. We need to start from scratch buying everything and we hardly earn enough to cater for our own children.”

Kaurangerua is employed as a domestic worker in Windhoek working one day a week but her earnings are very little, “something little, to just put food on the table,” she says. She had some help from her employer who offered a few corrugated iron sheets to rebuild the shack.

Her partner, Amon Kauraisa (39) is an unemployed plumber who only gets work when called by those who know his skills. “We have lived here for such a long time and never have I thought that I was going to wake up one day to see everything that we have worked hard for gone just like that,” he said in disappointment. He said their meagre shack was a home for their children, who were all born in Windhoek and he could not imagine moving to another place that they are not used to.

“We are appealing to anyone that is willing to assist us, even if it’s just an old microwave, blanket or clothing will be of so much help. All my tools burned inside, I don’t even know where to start if I get a small job right now.”

A similarly devastating shack fire towards the end of December 2019, left a family of 11, including six children (the youngest being eight months old) without a roof over the heads to sleeping in the open after their shack burned down at Okahandja park. The shack had caught fire and burned down while they had been away to visit a relative at Goreangab.

In 2019, the City of Windhoek’s fire department recorded over 140 fire incidents in the capital’s informal settlements. A further 439 cases were reported throughout Windhoek from January to November.

In October alone, about 21 shacks reportedly burned down while the city as a whole recorded 52 fire incidents that month. In the months prior to that, 19 shacks burned down in June and another 19 in August, while July and September each saw 12 shack fire incidents. In February, the least number of incidents (six) were reported in Windhoek’s informal settlements.