Burnt to death

Families living in a cluster of shacks on a Scottsdene pavement for more than a year saw 41-year-old Ruwayda Berg burn to death early on Saturday morning.

They claim security guards at the nearby Sunset Village flats refused to give them water to fight the fire that started at 1am and razed nine shacks in Long Street, leaving 30 people, including children, without shelter.

One of the squatters, Sharlene Smidt, said everyone had been asleep when the fire started.

They had heard Ms Berg’s screams from her burning shack.

Some men had tried to save her, kicking down the back of the shack to reach her, but the flames had been too fierce. They had asked the guards for water but had been refused, Ms Smidt said.

Instead, she claimed, the guards had filmed the fire with their smartphones. “Most of the shacks could have been saved, and my friend would be alive if they had given us water, but we waited for nearly 15 minutes till the fire trucks came and put the fire out. By then she was gone.”

A green-and-black sail used as shelter had melted onto Ms Berg’s body, she said, adding that it appeared as if her friend had been sleeping on a couch when the fire started.

Asked if Ms Berg had used a candle for light, Ms Smidt said, “No, Ruwayda used her phone.”

She said some residents from the other streets had brought buckets of water, but it had been too little too late.

Annie Erasmus, who lived next to Ms Berg, said she had lost everything in the fire, but the loss of personal belongings meant nothing because she had lost a true friend.

She said she was having sleepless nights and was still in shock.

“We are all sad because Ruwayda was a good person. She would help us by handing out food and making something to eat for everyone,” she said.

Ms Erasmus said Ms Berg would sell hot chips over weekends, giving leftovers to others in the camp.

“Ruwayda was a wonderful and friendly person and a good mother to a 16-year-old-son. That’s how I will remember her.”

Community activist Loriaan Croy said the families, who already had hand-me-downs, had lost all of their belongings – IDs, school clothes, shoes and furniture.

She appealed to neighbouring communities for help.

“As we are heading to winter, we are hoping that we will be blessed with new building materials, blankets, clothes and food.”

She said Ms Berg’s funeral was planned for Saturday, May 18, but they were struggling to scrape together enough money “to give her a decent send-off”.

In March 2018, 500 people were evicted from the unfinished Sunset Village flats (“Illegal occupants evicted,” Northern News, April 4).

Some of them refused to move from the pavement, and they built shacks there, hoping to be considered for housing.

The City’s Fire and Rescue spokesman Jermaine Carelse said firefighters had responded to a call at around 12.45am on Saturday May 4.

The cause of the fire was still being investigated, he said.

Disaster Risk Management’s Mandy Thomas said the City had been asked to assess the damage and supply building material.

“The City has informed the South African Social Security Agency of the incident and requested that they provide humanitarian aid,” she said.

Grant Twigg, the newly elected Mayco member for urban manageGrant Twigg, the newly elected Mayco member for urban manage ment and the Ward 7 councillor, said the families on the street were living there illegally and there was no way their shelters could be rebuilt.

“We have asked these people to move from the pavement; this is not the first time a fire happens there. I will be visiting Ruwayda’s mother this week, to wish her my condolences,” he said.

Wayne Williams, group executive director at Calgro M3 Consortium, the owners of Sunset Village, said it would surprise him if the guards had indeed not offered to help the squatters.

“Despite our efforts of trying to move these people, we do not feel that a fire should take someone’s life. This is a tragic event,” he said.

Calgro did not generally supply water to the squatters, but would have helped in the case of a fire, he said.

If you would like to help the people of Long Street or with Ruwayda’s burial arrangements, contact Ms Croy at 063 154 6185.