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Locked-in family perish in blaze

Deafening screams for help were not enough to assist a Malawian family stuck inside a burning shack in Ezinkomeni informal settlement in Nomzamo.

To make things worse, the shack the family of three were in was bolted shut with a chain and padlock. Residents tried in vain to help, but all three died inside the shack on Saturday evening (31 August).

A couple (aged 31) and their eight-month-old baby boy perished in the shack. In the neighbouring structure the body of a 12-year-old boy was found on Sunday morning.

Flashbacks of the fatal shack fire haunts a 44-year-old resident and mother of three whose efforts to try and save the fellow township family had failed.

The resident, who preferred to remain anonymous, recalled responding to the spouses’ cries for help from a large shack subdivided into three living areas after 23:00. It is unclear in which of these areas the fire started.

“The woman had the baby clutched in her arms, while the screaming man tried to kick down the door from the inside and I tried to force open the security bars from the outside. But nothing worked,” recalled the saddened resident who was left to watch the home being engulfed in flames with its family still inside.

She further said that the body of the 12-year-old child was discovered in another of the subdivided areas when the bodies were removed from the scene the following morning.

The blaze rapidly spread through the informal settlement, completely gutting 28 shacks and displacing 44 people. It was extinguished by firefighters at 02:38.

Jermaine Carelse, spokesperson for the City of Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue Services, said the cause of the fire is unknown and no other injuries were reported.

“Fire and Rescue Services arrived at the scene at 23:44 and the fire was extinguished at 02:38,” Carelse said.

Charlotte Powell, spokesperson for council’s Disaster Risk Management Centre, confirmed 28 informal structures were destroyed and 44 people were affected, adding that Sassa had been informed of the incident so it could provide humanitarian relief.

The fire’s trail of destruction was still visible on Monday, as debris of zinc sheets lay in heaps and electric wiring hung everywhere.

Of the fire victims had already started to rebuild their homes in a bid to get their lives back to some form of normality.

Those living in neighbouring shacks lost all their belongings. “This is a disaster. We have had fires here before, but it was not to the extent that lives have been lost,” said 47-year-old Nolusanga Matebese.

“My daughter was one of the first people to see the fire and scream for help. The door of the Malawian family’s home was locked with a chain and padlock on the inside, so it was difficult to open during the blaze.”

Matebese said her daughter ran to the police station for help while other residents tried to douse the flames.

Sergeant Mthokozisi Gama, spokesperson for Lwandle police, said an inquest docket has been opened.

“Police were called to the scene and found [several] shacks on fire in Ezinkomeni informal settlement. Police found the bodies of four people after the fire,” he confirmed, adding that foul play is not suspected.

In two isolated incidents on the same evening, five shacks burnt to the ground in fires in Nonkqubela and Nobuhle. These incidents displaced seven people, said Carelse. “No injuries were reported and the cause of both fires are unknown.”

The Sinobuntu Business Sector and Somali nationals donated food parcels to all the victims.

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