Durban - A grandmother has told of her horror at watching helplessly as fire destroyed a shack in which her grandchildren had been sleeping.
A 10-year-old boy was injured when he broke a window and tried to rescue the screaming children from the burning shack.
But the heat was too intense.
He wept as he heard the children’s screams and watched the shack burn.
The mother had allegedly left them locked in the shack when a blaze ripped through the “German” informal settlement, in Hall Road, Lamontville, early on Tuesday.
Zinhle Ngcobo, 7, and her 5-year-old brother, Ntando, died in the shack, one of at least 40 homes that burnt down, leaving about 150 to 200 people homeless.
Police spokesman, Captain Thulani Zwane, confirmed an inquest docket had been opened by Lamontville SAPS.
“While the shack was on fire, the mother was out. She had locked the door. If it is found that there was negligence, then there will be charges against her. But we are still investigating,” Zwane said.
The mother has not been arrested and could not be reached for comment by the time of publication. Her father had come after the fire to fetch her so she could “clear her mind”, said one of the residents, who did not want to be named.
The children’s grandmother, Zibuyile Ngcobo, told the Daily News she was in a shack next to the one where the two siblings were sleeping when the fire broke out.
“I was awoken by the screams of one of the children. I asked, shouting, what is going on and when I went ou … their shack was already on fire,” Ngcobo said.
Ngcobo said a neighbour’s 10-year-old boy tried to free them, but failed to break into the padlocked shack because of the heat from the fire. She said the boy was taken to a local clinic after he sustained cuts from the windowpane he tried broke.
“The boy had heard the children crying. The fire was quick and had engulfed the whole shack. There was nothing we could do,” she said.
Ngcobo said the children burnt to death inside and she could only watch helplessly as the fire razed the shacks.
“It was very bad. There was nothing to do (but) wait for the firefighters to put out the fire. I was asleep and the most horrifying thing is that no one managed to get to them early while they could be saved,” she said.
“The poor children died in my presence and around so many people staying here. I don’t know what the child (10-year-old neighbour) was thinking, but he tried. He was crying and I don’t know, the children must have been wondering why no one was coming for them.”
Ngcobo said the bodies of her grandchildren had been taken to a mortuary.
Commander Paul Audie, of the eManzimtoti fire department, said three fire engines were used to extinguish the blaze.
He said it took two hours for the firefighters to douse the flames before they could search for the two children who had been reported missing.
“It appeared that the door was locked when they were found by the firefighters. It appeared that a lit candle had been left unattended,” said Audie.
When the Daily News arrived at the settlement, a few people were seen trying to salvage their belongings, but all that was left were crumpled sheets of corrugated iron and charred wood. Groceries, fridges, beds and most residents’ belongings had been destroyed.
Some were at work when the fire broke out between 1am and 2am and could not save anything.
The ruins of the settlement were still smouldering at about 11am. Local councillor, Sandile Ndlovu, said they had arranged a temporary tent shelter for those left homeless.
A distraught resident, Sandile Mkhize, said he could not go to work after he had lost most of his belongings.
“My cellphone was burnt inside along with my driving licence. I couldn’t go to work as I am a driver and could not even report to work that all my belongings have been burnt in the fire,” Mkhize said.
Residents said this was not the first time a fire had broken out in the settlement. The last blaze, in 2012, was also caused by a candle that had been left unattended.