Stellenbosch Umasipala

The Executive Mayor of Stellenbosch, Conrad Sidego together with the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Ms Edna Molewa, observed a test to reduce the spread of fire in temporary structures in informal settlements (Shack fires). The test was conducted on 19 February by the Departments’ Working on Fire (WoF) and Eco-Furniture programmes, and the Stellenbosch Municipality at the Lanquedoc Sport Field in Stellenbosch.

The new building design and material was tested to assess their effectiveness in reducing the spread of fires in informal settlements and in limiting their often devastating impact on people and property. Structures were built from the new material and dwellings based on materials commonly used in informal settlements were set alight in order to compare the speed in which they burned and the extent to which fire spreads from them.

Developed with funding from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) channelled through the Working on Fire (WoF) programme, and implemented by the Kishugu Group, the new material consists of compressed composite boards. The test was observed by DEA and its partners in the project, the non-government organisation Design Change, which has developed a new fire-retarding design for temporary structures based on the material, Stellenbosch Municipality and its Disaster Management Centre, WoF and WoF beneficiaries.

The project was developed through a process in which the DEA and its partners have been looking at the potential of using use invasive alien biomass in the construction of temporary structures and exploring options to reduce the spread of fires in informal housing, while the pressures of formal housing are being addressed wherever possible. Mayor Conrad Sidego, who welcomed the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Deputy Minister of Public Works, Jeremy Cronin emphasised the fact that we cannot continue with “business as usual in face of very dangerous sires in informal settlements. Dignity and innovation is at the heart of this project as the Stellenbosch espouses to be the innovation capital of South Africa while promoting the dignity and safety of all of its citizens.”

In her keynote address Minister of Environmental Affairs Mrs Edna Molewa explained the importance of finding solutions to ever the growing plight of shack fires. “These experiments demonstrate the commitment of our government and its structures to seek solutions to the plights of the poor. This will extend to the quality of life for those living in such settlements in the pilot projects that we shall again run with our same group of partners regarding the green, safe and secure structures that may be temporary options in such circumstances,” she said. The design of temporary structures based on the new material aims to provide a low-cost alternative that saves lives.

The design is intended not just for its fire-proof properties, but for benefits that include thermal properties, safety, noise reduction, flooding protection, food security, denial of access to rats and other vermin and greater human dignity.

If the new dwelling design and composite fire-boarding prove to be effective in reducing the rate of spread of shack-fires, the use of woody invasive alien biomass could play a meaningful role in the reduction of loss of life, property and livelihoods of millions of South African citizens.

This would mean that the ongoing clearing of alien invasive timber from water-catchment systems would create not only jobs, but contribute to protecting lives and livelihoods.

For media queries please contact Zolile Nqayi 082 898 6483 or Vernon Bowers 084 593 6491