‘Mom, I’m already dead’
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
BURNT SHELL The fire destroyed a large section of the double-storey school