PICS: ‘We lost it all’ … the heartbreak of 2,000 families after Alexandra fire


Most of the residents in the Granville informal settlement didn’t have much to start with, and for many even that has gone up in flames.

Scenes of hopelessness, despair and desperation yesterday marked the aftermath of Thursday’s inferno that left more than 600 houses in Alexandra’s densely populated Granville informal settlement gutted – with about 2,000 families displaced.

Efforts by construction worker Mandla Phakathi to save his hard-earned money for a holiday in KwaZulu-Natal for Christmas proved costly, when he lost everything, including R17,000 savings he had stashed in his mattress.

Phakathi bemoaned his saving effort, saying: “Had I kept the money in the bank, I would be able to visit KwaZulu-Natal to be with my family this Christmas. Now I have nothing.”

Alexandra residents begin repairs and clean-up work, 07 December 2018, following a fire that that ravaged the informal settlement on Thursday, 06 December 2018. Picture: Refilwe Modise

Corrugated iron and some burnt belongings were strewn alongside busy London Road yesterday amid the sound of hammers and residents salvaging whatever was left of their zinc roof structures, to rebuild the homes that were destroyed by the fire.

Ntomboxolo Mteli looked on. Her one-year-old baby, Olwam, was strapped to her back, but there was nothing else left. All her belongings – clothes, a bed, cupboards, a fridge, a television set and food – went up in flames when the fire engulfed the entire settlement – rendering her and her other two children Amyoli, 7, and Axolo, 10, homeless.

Standing on a site of what was once her house, Mteli related her experience.

“It was around 3pm and I was inside the house with my children. We heard people shouting and saw how fast the fire was spreading towards our home; we had no chance to take out anything except to save ourselves by getting out with only the clothes on our backs,” said Mteli.

Her identity document was all she had in her possession.

Alexandra residents salvage what they can, following a fire that that ravaged the informal settlement on Thursday, 06 December 2018. Picture: Refilwe Modise

Mteli’s story is similar to many in her neighbourhood where many poorly built houses resulted in brick walls collapsing to the ground due to heat intensity.

Despite the dust-filled chaos of her surroundings, Mandisa Mgandala was busy breastfeeding her one-year-old baby, Anami.

“I was not here when the fire broke out but at work,” said the mother of five, who received a call at 2.30pm from neighbours.

“I have asked friends to assist in accommodating my children. I am only left with the clothes I have on me, having lost my identity document and academic certificates. The new clothes I bought for the children to wear at Christmas are gone,” said Mgandala.

Alex residents begin repairs and clean up work yesterday, 07 December 2018, following a fire that that ravaged the informal settlement, 06 December 2018. Picture: Refilwe Modise

Unemployed Justice Mahomane had “gone to look for work” when his wife phoned him to say their house was ablaze.

“As you can see, I am trying to rebuild the house because we have nowhere else to go. When you are not working, things are tough,” Mahomane said.

Police are investigating a case of murder following the death of a man allegedly assaulted by residents who accused him of starting the fire.

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