Wallacedene residents battled in vain to free a family from a burning shack last Thursday night – the fire claimed the lives of three women and four children.
Bongiwe Mankayi, 25, Akhanya Mankayi, 8, Lema Nobhoza, 8, Milani Mankayi, 3, Isivile Mkhizane, 8, and family friend Noxolo Qhina, 42, perished in the fire in Mothlanthe Street at Phase 1. Thenjiwe Mankayi, 51, escaped with severe burns to her face, but she died later in Tygerberg Hospital.
The City’s fire and rescue services spokesman Theo Layne said a “heating device” had likely caused the fire, but the SAPS would still need to confirm that. Captain FC Van Wyk said the fire was the subject of an inquest.
Lema’s father, Mxolisi Nobhoza, said his daughter had gone to live with Thenjiwe’s family for the holidays and had only been there a day when she died.
He said the different accounts he had been told by several residents had not really given him a clear picture of what happened that night.
“I don’t really know what happened. I am in a state of confusion,” he said. Mr Nobhoza told Northern News he had been asked for a DNA sample to help identify his daughter, and he has to make arrangements for her funeral in Lady Frere, in the Eastern Cape.
Ms Qhina’s sister, Vathiswa, said her sibling had been called over to the Mankayi family’s home on that night. Later a resident had called her to tell her sister was among the dead.
“Noxolo was loved by everyone and was a humorous character.”
She said she expects her sister to be buried in Ugie, near Maclear in the Eastern Cape.
Nosipho Bhokila, a next-door neighbour, doesn’t believe a heater caused the fire because the family did not own one.
She said she had not heard anything on the night of the fire, but people told her afterwards of screams coming from inside the house.
“As soon as I heard the commotion, I went to look and saw a huge fire. We started throwing water, but it was a strong fire.”
By that time, she said, hundreds of residents had come to help rescue the family. They kicked at the door and the windows, but the burglar bars and the narrow alley in front of the house hampered their efforts.
Thenjiwe had emerged from the burning remains of the shack after the residents pulled it apart. She had been visibly shaken, her face “severely charred”. She had succumbed to her injuries in hospital on Friday afternoon, said neighbours. This was confirmed by Tygerberg Hospital spokeswoman Leticia Pienaar.
Resident Aseza Bhokila said the incident had stunned the Phase 1 community. She said neighbours were fortunate the blaze did not spread, because the shacks are packed closely together.
At the scene on Friday morning, some children’s and women’s clothes lay sprawled across the shack’s floor, while others remained neatly stacked in a suitcase partially damaged by the fire.
Ms Bhokila said the family had been asleep when the fire started.
Mr Layne said the City ran fire education programmes in informal settlements throughout the year.
“It remains the responsibility of all residents to take care when using cooking, heating and other electrical devices and to be vigilant at all times,” he said.
There have been 1 460 fires in the city since July last year. This is the second deadly fire in Wallacedene in just over a month. On Sunday May 22, four family members burned to death while sleeping in their shack in what police and residents believe was an arson attack. Sisters Thamara, 10 and Ncumisa Ndesi, 30, their niece, Lisa, 10, and nephew, Qhama, 5, were also trapped in a fire that claimed their lives. PUT IN HEADLINE AND DATE
Benedicta van Minnen, mayoral committee member for human settlements, said the City had issued 67 fire-repellent kits to homes in Wallacedene and nine in Scottsdene since January.
“With regards to the fire-repellent material, this will not prevent or stop any fire but it is designed to slow down the rapid spread of a fire, especially in an informal settlement which can be dense, with very little space left in between informal dwellings,” she said.