12 February 2004 Edition

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Imizamo Yethu Township devastated by blaze

Last week, An Phoblacht featured an article about the Imizamo Yethu Township in Hout Bay near Cape Town in South Africa. The article described how Irish property developer Niall Mellon, along with 150 Irish builders, had brought hope to the cramped and impoverished township by building 26 brick houses to replace jerry-built shanty dwellings, and starting a project that would see many more built. But tragedy struck last Sunday when Imizamo Yethu was gripped by a terrible blaze, which consumed half the township.

Over 5,000 of the 12,000 residents who live there were made homeless overnight, losing all their possessions. So far no deaths have been reported, although some township children are still missing.

Just three of the houses built by the Irish builders were damaged in the fire, which demolished the surrounding ramshackle huts.

The fire is said to have started after a candle was knocked over in one of the huts, in the early hours of Sunday morning. The thousands of huts are packed together so tightly that the fire was able to spread in next to no time, a regular occurrence in South Africa's many such townships.

Community leaders have now begun sifting through the ruins, and some tents have been erected to provide temporary accommodation for the 5,000 people now homeless.

Niall Mellon said he was "heartbroken by the news, but our mission is to build houses and we can't lose sight of that".

Mellon added that he had had hundreds of calls from Irish people wanting to help with the building project since news of the fire broke.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1