‘Mom, I’m al­ready dead’

CityPress - - News - POLOKO TAU poloko.tau@city­press.co.za

Martha Diseko was fast asleep when a fran­tic What­sApp mes­sage came through from her deaf daugh­ter. Katlego (16) was trapped in her school hos­tel in Leeu­dor­ingstad, North West, bat­tling to stay alive in the smoke-filled build­ing caught in rag­ing flames.

Diseko woke up in the mid­dle of the night and found her cell­phone flash­ing a red light, in­di­cat­ing mes­sages had come in. She jumped when she read the last mes­sage. “Mom, [I] am al­ready dead,” it read. When a mes­sage to Katlego yielded no re­sponse, Diseko’s heart started pound­ing. All the help­less mother could do was pace around her house in Ikope­leng vil­lage out­side Mahikeng. Katlego’s ear­lier mes­sages had been about the fire and the smoke in their rooms.

Diseko replied too late. Her daugh­ter was, in­deed, al­ready dead.

Katlego and two other pupils, Bulelwa Koni (18) and Emily Oa­geng (22), were cer­ti­fied dead on the scene af­ter the fire was put out at the North West Sec­ondary School for the Deaf in the early hours of Mon­day morn­ing.

“I did not know who to call. I prayed for her safety and con­vinced my­self she had man­aged to es­cape the fire,” said Diseko. Her worst fears were con­firmed the next morn­ing when of­fi­cials ar­rived to break the bad news to her.

Katlego also sent three fran­tic What­sApp mes­sages to her boyfriend, Tshi­amo Mat­lapeng, a col­lege stu­dent in Mahikeng.

He showed City Press the mes­sages on his phone on Fri­day. Her first mes­sage came through at 1.23am, but Mat­lapeng was sleep­ing and only read it when he woke up the morn­ing.

The first mes­sage read: “…there is a fire in our hos­tel idk [I don’t know] gore ke mang a o dirileng [who started it] but o fedile ke mosi o mo ntsi [the fire is not there any more, just a lot of smoke] what if we will die … I can’t lose you baby but I will pray now and ask God for help”.

Another mes­sage four min­utes later read: “All deaf [pupils] are cry­ing ra hu­pelwa hle yoh [we are suf­fo­cat­ing] ... but nna le Bulelwa re tsena mo toi­let gago na mosi ke fela mo di room tsa rona [me and Bulelwa, we’re go­ing into the toi­let, there’s no fire in there but only in our rooms] but di deaf di teng mo room ba ro­betse ba i khu­rumetsa ka kobo [other deaf learn­ers are in the room, they’re cov­er­ing their heads with blan­kets] but it’s not work­ing if they do that what if yoh ... I am scared to die…”

The last mes­sage came in 21 min­utes later: “I am al­ready dead love good­bye”.

Mat­lapeng wept as he read the mes­sages. He fran­ti­cally re­sponded and was later told she had died in the fire. “I cried the whole day. It was so sad,” he said. Diseko said her Grade 8 daugh­ter was new at the

Katlego’s SMS sent to her boyfriend

just be­fore she died

school. She was reg­is­tered there at the be­gin­ning of this year.

“She moved to the school be­cause her old one in Rusten­burg does not of­fer Grade 8 and one thing I re­mem­ber is that she did not like it in Leeu­dor­ingstad. She cried a lot and did not want me to leave her there at the be­gin­ning of the year – and her life ended there,” said Diseko.

Sur­rounded by griev­ing fam­ily and friends, Diseko strug­gled to ex­plain how she felt. She had more ques­tions than an­swers.

In a state­ment this week, po­lice said the dead girls were “trapped in­side the build­ing and died on the scene”.

An ini­tial state­ment by the North West ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment said: “An alarm rang to [warn] learn­ers [about] the fire, but they could not hear it due to the na­ture of their dis­abil­ity. They are re­ported to have died while sleep­ing and oth­ers tried to es­cape the flames. The cause of the fire is still not known and po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing.”

Diseko wants to know why her daugh­ter was un­able to leave the burn­ing build­ing.

“I asked whether they were locked in and why help took so long, but all I am told is that an in­ves­ti­ga­tion is on. We need an­swers,” she said.

Back in Leeu­dor­ingstad, a large sec­tion of the dou­ble-storey block had caved in from the fire.

A school of­fi­cial said the girls had been sleep­ing on the first floor.

North West ed­u­ca­tion MEC Wendy Matsemela said an in­ves­ti­ga­tion was be­ing con­ducted to de­ter­mine the cause of the fire – the sec­ond tragedy at the school in three weeks.

Three freshly planted trees stood near the school hall this week, sym­bol­is­ing the loss of two pupils and a teacher killed in a road ac­ci­dent. Three more trees waited nearby. They will be planted next week in mem­ory of Katlego and her friends.


FI­NAL FAREWELL Mourn­ers gather to pay their re­spects to Katlego Diseko at her fu­neral in Ikope­leng vil­lage out­side Mahikeng yesterday IN TEARS

Katlego Diseko

BURNT SHELL The fire de­stroyed a large sec­tion of the dou­ble-storey school

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