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When disaster struck at two Nelson Mandela Bay communities in recent weeks, seeing a number of families lose their homes and belongings to fires, Nelson Mandela University’s Convergence Fund Deployment Committee (CFDC) stepped in to assist in the support initiatives for the affected communities.

The communities, in New Brighton and Uitenhage’s Kwa-Langa township, are coincidentally both named Mandela Village. In the New Brighton incident, about 23 homes were lost when a fire razed the area in September. About 63 men, women and children were affected, and temporarily housed at the KK Ncwane Methodist Church and the Councillor’s office, while others sought refuge with relatives.

The New Brighton fire was brought to the attention of CFDC by Azola Dayile, a Mandela University alumnus whose family member was one of those affected by the tragedy.

The Kwa-Langa fire occurred at the end of September, just two weeks after the New Brighton incident, and is alleged to have been started by a group of gangsters trying to fish out someone they were pursuing from an unwitting community member’s house. It was brought to the CFDC’s attention by the research Chair for Human Settlements at Mandela University, Prof Sijekula Mbanga, whose team has been working with the community.

The fire quickly spread and destroyed a total of five homes, affecting 24 men, women and children. Some of the families were accommodated at the community centre, some at the local crèche, while others stayed with relatives.

The Convergence Fund Deployment Committee is the disbursement arm of the University’s Convergence Fund. The Convergence Fund emerged earlier this year in response to the outbreak of the pandemic and balanced short-term relief with projects that build towards longer-term sustainability.

While it began with a COVID-19 relief focus, it soon, and perhaps not surprisingly, became a space to contribute to addressing the prevailing inequalities and social ills within our society, which have been foregrounded and exacerbated by the pandemic.

“The fires in these communities provide an example of how, within the less restrictive Level 1 lockdown situation, where we are seemingly ‘back to normal,’ the threat of COVID-19 lingers and the effects of such disasters increases the chances of contracting the virus as pandemic era precautions are rather compromised in the spaces in which the affected families seek refuge” said Dr Bruce Damons, who chairs the CFDC.

Since being notified, the CFDC has offered support to the fire-ravaged communities, in addition to the support given to the affected communities by local government, civil society organisations and community members. This collaborative effort saw the affected families given temporary accommodation, cooked meals, and being provided mattresses, blankets and food parcels.

“However, it was noted that in disasters such as these, the responses are often not developed in consultation with the affected parties, in some cases resulting in an over-abundance of one thing (such as clothing) and none of something else which is needed, like pots to cook in, or a two-plate stove,” said Dr Damons.

The CFDC was allocated R30 000 to assist the affected communities – R20 000 towards the New Brighton Mandela Village families and R10 000 for those in Kwa-Langa.

“We presented this to the families and representatives in the meetings, and we asked them to send us a ‘wish list’, developed together with the affected families,” said Nicole Collier-Naidoo, who represents civil society in the CFDC.

The wish lists sent to CFDC included items such as two-plate stoves, crockery and cutlery, pots, irons, washing basins, kettles and curtains.

One of the most pressing concerns as raised by the affected families during meetings was the loss of important paperwork and documentation, and the difficulty in getting these back. In response to this, identity documents were subsidized for the New Brighton Mandela Village community, so that each person need only pay R20 as opposed to the usual cost.

“However, even R20 can be hard to come by when one has lost all one’s belongings. One community elder in Kwa-Langa mentioned feeling traumatised not only by the event, but by the struggle of trying to sort out his identity documents, requiring multiple trips into town and no luck yet,” said Collier-Naidoo.

The loss of documentation has also gravely affected foreign nationals who were renting and staying in backrooms in the affected areas. The CFDC linked the three Zimbabwean nationals with Mandela University’s Refugee Rights Centre, which helped with letters to help ensure that they would not be arrested due to the lost documentation, while new documentation is sought.

“The letters provided by the Refugee Rights Centre offer some desperately-needed respite from the particular challenges faced by community members who are foreign nationals in trying to rebuild their lives after a disaster,” said Collier-Naidoo.”

These and other challenges have been raised, with the CDFC, which works in collaboration with multiple stakeholders, attempting to rally support for the affected families.

There were wish list items that fell outside of the financial limitations of the CFDC, which are:

  • Bed bases or frames
  • Curtains
  • Pots
  • School uniforms
  • Microwaves
  • Fridges
  • Mini-ovens

Should anyone be able to assist with these or other items for these families, please contact Nicole at

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777