Settling in with settlement visits

Imizamo Yethu after som initial reblocking (South Africa)
A street in Imizamo Yethu

An exciting and thought provoking visit to Stellenbosch and Cape Town, meeting with Dr Richard Walls and colleagues as we discuss the next few years of the project.


The trip also included a few trips to some of the settlements that we are considering studying, both socially and physically, for the IRIS-Fire project.

The week started with some initial meetings and then straight into visiting the Kayamandi settlement close to Stellenbosch University. Kayamandi is one of the settlements that we are considering to be part of the surveying activity within the project. We also met with a few of the local leaders who are interested in helping with the inputs and outputs of the project, and ensuring that they are relevant and appropriate.

Our settlement guides lead us round a lot of the settlement, allowing us to see the tight nature of the access routes and the various signs of past fires that have occurred (usually from oxidised metals and charred electricity pylons). We were also welcomed into a few homes to see how people used and filled their homes, as well as how these structures are constructed.

A street view of the Kayamandi Settlement outside of Stellenbosch
Kayamandi street

Richard Walls and David Rush assess the test shack at Breede Valley Fire Servie
Assessing the test shack

The following day was a visit to the Breede Valley Fire and Rescue Service in Worcester. The fire brigade there are very keen on participating and helping the IRIS-Fire project and other projects to try to mitigate the risk of fires in informal settlements. The Breede Valley fire brigade took me on a tour of their testing facilities where they are currently working with Dr Walls, testing and understanding shack fire dynamics and assessing the performance of various types of fire alarms.

The tour then continued to a visit to the Wallacedene informal settlement where I had the pleasure to see and meet a few of the residents and their homes and see the rollout of some fire alarms in the informal dwellings with the aim to improve the fire safety within individual homes.

Wildfire - May 2017 - Outside Worcester South Africa
South African Wildfire

The afternoon was then spent discussing and assessing different options for the the test site for the projects large scale fire experiments, where we are hoping to build a mock informal settlement, to understand how the fire will spread including the effects of wind and topography of the site.


On our way back from visiting the test sites we witnessed a large wildfire - a pernicious and ever present risk within South Africa.

After visiting the test sites, we visited the Imizamo Yethu Settlement, which had experienced a very severe fire in March of 2017, where 10,000 were displaced and 4 people died. The scale of the fire damage was tremendous, but also how quickly damaged areas had been reinstated with new (sometimes double storey) dwellings, and how many areas are reusing fire-damaged materials to reconstruct their dwellings.

Visiting Imizamo Yethu really opened my eyes to the scale of the devastation possible, the complexity of the physical and socio-political nature of informal settlement disasters and managing the recovery process, and made the necessity of the research proposed in this project feel even more real.

by David Rush