Statement on Orange Farm Fire Tragedy
Monday 5 July 2004
PRESS RELEASE (MONDAY 5th JULY 2004)
THREE FAMILY MEMBERS DEAD AND ONE CRITICALLY INJURED IN ORANGE FARM FIRE AS A DIRECT RESULT OF 4-DAY ELECTRICTY AND WATER SHUT DOWN
ESKOM AND JOHANNESBURG WATER SHOW CALLOUS DISREGARD FOR THE LIVES OF THE POOR - THEY MUST BE HELD RESPONSIBLE!
FUNERAL TO BE HELD TOMORROW (TUESDAY) AT THE MWANGA FAMILY’S BURNT-OUT HOME (HOUSE NO.7781 - EXT.3)
Last Wednesday night (30th June) a fire at the home of the Mwanga family of Orange Farm (Extension 3) killed Mr. Gideon Mwanga (a paraplegic) and two of his children, Jethro and Theo. One other child remains in a hospital intensive care unit with serious burns. Overturned candles started the fire - candles that the Mpofu family had been forced to use as a result of a four-day electricity black out that affected over 1500 homes in the area. Other members of the Mwanga family and neighbours were unable to put out the fire because no water was available as a result of a Johannesburg Water shut down in the community that also lasted four days.
Neither ESKOM nor Johannesburg Water had informed the affected community of the shutdowns. When community residents, alongside members of the APF affiliate, the Orange Farm Water Crisis Committee (OFWCC), made queries to ESKOM, their response was that they “were not aware” of the electricity shut-down in Extension 3. Johannesburg Water simply stated that they were “fixing pipes”. Since the tragedy, ESKOM and Johannesburg Water have issued no public apology to the Mwanga family (or the entire community), nor have they given any indication of their willingness to compensate the family for their human and material losses. Their combined ineptitude and callousness is an outrage. Briggs Mokolo, Chairperson of the OFWCC (which has been trying to assist the family and whose members will be at the funeral tomorrow to offer support and condolences) has indicated that the OFWCC will struggle alongside the family and the community to hold both ESKOM and Johannesburg Water accountable for this tragedy.
Continued privatised service delivery will only mean more suffering and death for poor South Africans as witnessed by the recent point-blank shooting murder of Marcel King in Phoenix (Durban) who was simply defending his mother from private security thugs who had come to cut-off the community’s electricity. The APF calls on the media to stop ignoring the lives of the poor. As Brandon Pillay of the Bayview Flats Residents Association (Chatsworth) stated at Marcel’s funeral, the almost complete lack of media coverage “further proves how unfairly the poor and marginalized are treated ... they are continually made to disappear into the background invisible, shadows that no one pays attention to”.
The APF extends its sincerest condolences to the Mwanga family and wishes a speedy recovery for the critically injured child. Although nothing can bring back their loved ones, we can pledge that we will intensify our efforts/struggles to ensure that the ‘deliverers’ of basic services such as water and electricity are returned to full public ownership, efficiency and accountability and that the lives of the poor no longer remain in the shadows.