‘Mom begged me to res­cue her chil­dren’

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - ILANIT CHERNICK @Lanc_02

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.

PIC­TURES: ITUME­LENG ENGLISH

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.

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