South Africa Journal: A Homeless Christmas

Cape Town’s summer weather brings hazards in the form of the southeast wind, which spreads fires quickly. In addition to the brush fires–some natural, some human-caused–that tear across the landscape, there are also shack fires that can devastate the city’s squatter camps. One such fire on Monday destroyed 350 corrugated iron dwellings, leaving 1500 people homeless. The only good news was that no one was killed in the rapid blaze.

Winter has its own hazards, when northwest winds bring storms and rain that flood the wide sandy plain known as the Cape Flats. Again, it is the poor that suffer–a legacy of Cape Town’s racially segregated past, which kept the mountainside and the hills for white people and relegated black and mixed-race communities to the far outskirts of the city, often relocating them forcibly from neighborhoods in the center that were then destroyed.

For once, all of South Africa’s political parties are united in offering assistance to those who have lost everything they had, right before the Christmas holiday. The local Democratic Alliance-governed municipality is guiding relief efforts, while the African National Congress and its allies are organizing assistance as well. South Africans do have a tendency to come together in times of need–and in times of joy. This Christmas happens to be both.