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Katlehong shack fire claims five

The voices of her nephew and nieces, who desperately banged on the shack while crying for help before going completely silent, is a picture Vuyisile Lunika (58) will never forget for the rest of her life.

“What hurts me the most is that my grandchildren were burnt like coal while I watched, and I could not do anything to help them.”

These were the words of Vuyisile Lunika (58), a grieving grandmother of four children, who died when a fire on June 17 burnt down the shack they were sleeping in at Ext 9, Katlehong South.

She said it would have been better if she was not around instead of having to watch her nephew and three nieces die.

“If it were up to me, I would ask God to rather take me than my grandchildren at such a young age,” said Lunika.

The quartet, a boy named Ayabonga Njozela (five) and three girls – Nqobile Njozela (three), Lilitha Njozela (seven) and Philile Njozela (10) – was burnt beyond recognition and died on the night of June 17, along with Ernest Moloi (31), the boyfriend of Bulelwa Njozela, the mother of Ayabonga.

Lunika said they were sitting inside one of the shacks before the fire started at about 23:00.

She said because the shack was too small to accommodate everyone, she took the children to another one because they were sleepy.

She only went outside after hearing someone scream, warning them that one of their shacks was on fire.

“We went to the shack and found the fire was uncontrollably blazing from inside to outside through the door. I tried to open it, but it was locked from the inside,” said Lunika.

With the help of neighbours, they tried to extinguish the fire, but seeing that their attempt was unsuccessful, they dismantled the shack by removing the corrugated iron sheets at the back.

However, they could not get inside because a cupboard blocked them, and they feared pushing it over might make it fall on top of the children.

“The father (Nkululeko Malinga) of one of the children (Nqobile) went inside to try to save the children but quickly returned outside. He is currently in hospital after sustaining burn injuries.

“The structure burnt until nothing was left bar the ashes, and no one could get inside,” she explained.

“When the police arrived, the shack was already on the ground. We found five bodies, but one was of an adult we could not identify. Further information revealed that the body was that of Moloi,” said the grandmother.

Lunika said she did not understand what had happened on Saturday, citing that the couple had been together for a year and loved each other very much.

She stated that Moloi went to their home during the day looking for his girlfriend, Bulelwa, who was not there.

“He returned in the afternoon, threatening to kill his girlfriend after not finding her again before he disappeared. Seemingly, he later found her at a house, but she refused to leave with him.

“I was puzzled when I heard one of the bodies was his. I did not see him when he came inside. I only saw him as a corpse.”

The aggrieved grandmother said images of the fire and the voices of her nephew and nieces who desperately banged on the shack while crying for help before going completely silent was a picture she would never forget for the rest of her life.

The children’s last moments

Lunika said Philile was a calm child, and no one ever complained about her, no matter where they sent her.
The grandmother said she loved her to the extent that she asked her mother to allow the child to stay with her, citing that she was getting old and her children were all grown.

The damaged shack in Ext 9, Katlehong South, after a fire broke out and killed four minors and a 31-year-old man. (Photo: Kasie FM Facebook page)

They agreed that Philile would help her and that the grandmother would provide for her.

“Before I went to my piece job on Saturday morning, I asked her to go to her mother’s place because we did not have food.

“She was still here when I returned. She asked for R5 to buy peanuts, which I gave her. We cooked and ate. The last time I saw her, they were going to bed.”

Lunika said she raised Lilitha, explaining that her mother had her when she was young.

“Lilitha was a clever child loved by her teachers. Her teachers’ complained when she was absent, saying other learners could not cope when she was not at school and that she was the only child who listened,” shared Lunika.

“Ayabonga was the naughtiest. He would silently watch me doing something, and when we sat together, he would confront me and ask why I was doing whatever he saw me do at the time.

“Nqobile lived with her father, but whenever she visited, she would look for me until she found me. She would kiss me and tell me she loved me.

“Even on the day she passed away, they were coming from her father’s place here, and she found me on my bed, she came straight to me to kiss me and said, ‘I love you gogo’. I am very hurt,” she concluded.

The children’s uncle, Mike Lunika (56), said they had left everything to God.

Mike said the situation could have been worse because the shacks were close to each other.

He thanked the City of Ekurhuleni for supporting them and carrying the weight for the family.

“They are helping us because they promised to dig the grave. The municipality will provide a hall, and they have already identified a funeral parlour that will bury the children,” said Mike.

“The Disaster Management Department and the school also donated groceries. We are still waiting for SASSA to visit us. We are grateful to get such support because it would have been difficult for the family.”

The Ekurhuleni Emergency Services media liaison officer, Eric Maloka, said despite attempts by the neighbours to extinguish the fire, it was too intense because it had spread rapidly throughout the three-room shack, leading to the death of everyone inside.

He said firefighters extinguished the fire. The cause of the fire is not yet known.

“Gauteng paramedics declared all five dead. Ekurhuleni fire safety and the Katlehong South SAPS are investigating the possible cause,” said Maloka.

The Gauteng Provincial SAPS media liaison officer, Captain Mavela Masondo, confirmed the opening of an inquest docket at the Katlehong South SAPS. Investigations are underway.

ALSO READ: Grieving family warns community about house fires caused by load-shedding

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