‘Mom begged me to rescue her children’
CONFLICTING reports have emerged as to what led to a shack fire that killed three children in Snake Park, Soweto, in the early hours of yesterday.
A little pink dress and partially burnt baby clothes lay near the site where the shack once stood. This attested to the young lives that, just hours before, lived within the four walls.
Neighbours and friends gathered nearby, reeling in shock over the loss of the three children, aged between 11 months and five years.
“I saw them on Sunday. We’re family friends and I have children the same age, they were playing together. I can’t believe they’re gone,” said Siphiwe Tshabalala, a family friend.
“I came as soon as I heard. There were people running with buckets trying to extinguish the fire. It was chaotic,” he said.
Zie Kapo, who lived in a neighbouring shack, said he was asleep when the fire broke out between 1am and 2am.
“They went to sleep before I did, everything seemed normal. But then I heard screaming and someone was kicking my door.
“I jumped up and saw my neighbour half-naked. She screamed that her shack was on fire.
“Seconds later‚ I saw her husband, who was also naked, running out of their shack,” Kapo recalled.
“I went back into my house to get a bucket. I poured water on the flames, but then they were worse than before. People came to help put the fire out.
“There was so much smoke and ash. They were all screaming. The mother was begging me to go inside and rescue the children,” he said, eyes welling up with tears.
Kapo’s shack was also gutted. “It took about 20 minutes for the flames to jump over to my side. My clothes, my ID book, my cellphone, everything is gone.”
When The Star visited a relative’s home to speak to the parents, who had been discharged from hospital after receiving treatment for burn wounds, one family member said everyone was still traumatised and asked for privacy.
Police spokesperson Captain Kay Makhubele said the cause of the fire was still being investigated. But some residents alleged that the children’s father had burnt down the shack after an argument with his girlfriend, the mother of his three children.
“He had a fight with her on Sunday; and a few months ago the couple were kicked out of a relative’s home after they had a fight and he tried to burn the place down.
“He has a terrible temper. When we came to see what was happening, the fire wasn’t big yet, there was still time to save them,” claimed one resident, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear for his life.
Another resident said he wouldn’t have been surprised if “he’d poured the petrol himself and set the place alight”.
“They used to fight all the time. There was time (to save the children), but it’s like he wanted them dead,” he added.
Makhubele was unable to confirm these allegations. An inquest docket has been opened.
Joburg Emergency Management Services spokesperson Nana Radebe said that when they arrived on the scene, nothing could be done for the children.
Gauteng Social Development MEC Nandi Mayathula-Khoza expressed her sadness and sent condolences to the family.
HAUNTING: A neighbour, Zie Kapo, assesses the scene where three siblings between 11 months and five years died in a shack fire in Snake Park, Soweto, in the early hours of yesterday. The children’s parents sustained burns and are recovering after being discharged from hospital.
GUTTED: Shocked neighbours had tried in vain to help douse the deadly shack blaze.