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September 23, 2018

Unlike Grenfell and Knysna fires, Kware collapse already buried

During the first two weeks of June there were three tragedies that caught my attention. The first was 488km east of where I live in Cape Town.

The holiday resort town of Knysna and surrounding areas went up in flames on June 7, leaving some 4,000 people displaced and five people, including a pregnant mother, her husband and their three-year-old son, dead.

The second tragedy was in Nairobi, the city of my birth, where on June 12 a seven-storey residential building in the Kware neighbourhood of the suburb of Embakasi to the east of the CBD collapsed. From what I can make out, two people died and about 128 people were left homeless.

The third disaster happened on June 14, a couple of days later in London when a 24-storey Council-owned apartment block in North Kensington was engulfed by fire, causing at least 58 deaths and leaving about 600 people homeless.

What fascinated the journalist in me was how the stories of the the three tragedies fared once the initial news reports were complete. As I write this in the last week of June, the British media is keeping the Grenfell Tower inferno story alive with updates and follow-ups every day.

From the British media we know, for instance, that the fire has prompted safety checks on similar buildings throughout the country and even that the fire was caused by a faulty fridge. There was even a story about the Conservative Party Councillor under whom the last refurbishment of the Tower was carried out having to flee with his family ahead of angry protesters after it emerged that the cladding material used in the renovation was faulty and contributed to the fire damage.

The fires in Knysna, which were fanned by strong winds caused by a storm that itself caused certain damage around the province, are also still in the news nearly a month later. Journalists have done follow-ups on the rehabilitation of buildings, the resettlement of the worst affected and what the provincial authorities together with residents are planning in the long road ahead to recovery. There have also been stories of charitable donations of food and clothes to the poor who were in fact the worst affected by the Knysna fires.

I am happy that these stories are being kept alive to remind both the people and the authorities of their responsibilities in such situations, whether they are man-made or so-called acts of God.

I am saddened, however, that other than news reports on the day of the Kware building collapse and more news the day after detailing survivors and rescue efforts, there is no more news about the building collapse and all I can do is to assume that the people of Nairobi and Kenya as a whole have forgotten or accepted and moved on.

But then again I shouldn’t be surprised, I guess we have had so many collapsed illegal buildings in Nairobi that we no longer feel anything. Hopefully I am wrong, but I guess we’ll have to wait until the next building collapse - and there will be one - to see how Kenyans behave.

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