The long journey to rebuilding a place to call home has started for the residents of Aussenkehr, where a fire ravaged more than 55 reed houses and killed one man on Tuesday morning.
About 10 years ago, the government undertook to provide decent housing at Aussenkehr – home to an estimated 16 000 people – after the farm’s landlord, Dusan Vasiljevic, donated 600ha of land.
Today, however, residents, most of whom are grape farmworkers, still live in abysmal conditions.
About 110 residents have now been left distitute after losing their homes and personal belongings.
The deceased has been identified as Willem Shiyoleni (27).
His next of kin have been informed of his death.
Lukas Handuukeme (44) says his housemate woke him up when the fire started at Shiyoleni’s place to go and help to put it out.
Handuukeme says Shiyoleni was reportedly working a late shift and returned home after 23h00.
He then allegedly started cooking, but fell asleep.
“We came there and started calling his name to wake him up. We could hear him responding to our calls, but he was trapped by the fire. The fire was strong in the front of his house where the door he must exit from was located,” Handuukeme says.
He says their attempts to put out the fire and save their friend was in vain.
“When we looked up and around we saw eight to 10 other houses had caught fire too. The wind was strong and it was spreading the fire quickly,” he says.
Handuukeme says his house was one of the first 10 that caught fire.
He says he has lost everything.
“My children are at the north. It was just me and my wife, but she escaped uninjured. We just couldn’t save our belongings. It all happened very fast,” he says.
Police deputy commissioner Nicodemus Mbango has confirmed the incident.
“It’s alleged that a fire broke out in the deceased’s reed house, which lead to the fire spreading to the nearby houses where at least 30 burned to ashes,” he says.
Mbango says the fire was extinguished by community members, and its cause has not been established yet.
“The deceased burned beyond recognition, and the body was transferred to the Noordoewer police mortuary,” he says.
Namibia Grape Company general manager Gideon Nuunyango says the company has resolved to help employees left destitute by the fire with food parcels and temporary housing.
“About 28 of the people affected are from Namibia Grape Company. We have decided to utilise money from the trust to buy food to make the parcels and to buy corrugated iron zinc sheets to build the employees temporary houses,” he says.
Nuunyango says the company has requested the management of Aussenkehr farms to allocate it land so that the affected residents could be moved there.
“These employees were currently still located at the place the company wanted them to move from to make space for the expansion of the Spar complex.
“As soon as we get the land, they can be relocated temporarily until the government erven for housing are available,” he says.
The residents received a notice in 2021 informing them to move from the land adjacent to the shopping complex by the end of March to create room for a commercial development to expand Aussenkehr Mall.
Silverlands Grape Company manager Willem Visser says a list of those affected is currently being compiled to verify the number of employees affected and their lossess.
“Our company has a policy to cover the losses of our people 100%. We will help them with shelter, food, clothing and bedding,” he says.
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