Durban - A seven-year-old boy died and about 60 of his mother’s neighbours have been left homeless after a lovers’ quarrel led to a blaze at a Durban shack settlement at the weekend.
Lindokuhle Myeza, who had returned home from boarding school for the holidays, was burned to death on Saturday night.
His remains were found almost three hours after a fire had ravaged about 20 informal dwellings at the Dakota settlement in Isipingo Beach.
According to witnesses, a woman had set fire to the shack next to the one Lindokuhle had been sleeping in after an argument with her boyfriend.
It is believed the quarrelling couple had since disappeared.
The boy had been alone for a few minutes while his mother, Sthobile Myeza, 24, was at her sister’s tuck shop a few metres away.
Thembeka Myeza said on Sunday that Sthobile and their other sister, who also lives in the settlement, were chatting at about 9pm.
“We had heard the couple fighting and thought nothing of it because they fought all the time,” she said.
Thembeka said they did not hear or smell the fire as her sisters were leaving, but moments later they realised the danger.
“Sthobile came running back, saying she could not get into her house because it was engulfed in flames.”
Panicking, the sisters ran back to Sthobile’s shack where other residents, who had escaped their burning homes, gathered as the fire spread.
She said some neighbours said Lindokuhle had got out and run away.
As they searched for him, Thembeka took Sthobile to her house to attend to the minor burns she had sustained on her legs and hands while trying to get into her burning home.
Their brother, Mbuso, and the local ward 90 chairman, Thulani Ngcobo, joined the search for Lindokuhle, but there was no sign of him.
When firefighters put out the fire about two hours later, Ngcobo found Lindokuhle’s body in Myeza’s home.
“The mattress was totally burned and only the steel structure and springs remained. I could see the child’s ashen outline on it,” he said.
Delivering the news to Sthobile, Ngcobo said she took it so badly they had to call in trauma counsellors.
“I can’t imagine what she is going through when even I am traumatised.”
Thembeka said Sthobile cried uncontrollably, screaming her son’s name and praying.
Lindokuhle had just returned from boarding school in Inchanga, west of Durban.
“My heart breaks for my sister. She was so excited to have her son home that when I sent her to buy stock for my tuck shop, she took him with her,” said Thembeka.
The fire had spread so fast that resident Fikiswa Sobhoyisi only came away with the clothes on her back.
Another resident, Zethu Mditshwa, had only her pyjamas.
“I was sleeping when a passerby banged on my door shouting for me to get out because of the fire,” she said.
Mditshwa said she was crushed when Lindokuhle’s body was discovered.
He and her six-year-old son had been friends and had played together.
She said she clung onto her own four children, aged 10, 9, 6 and a 6-month-old, and could do nothing but watch as the fire destroyed everything they had.
Residents were shovelling up the rubble on Sunday as smoke still rose in some spots.
They were given bread and soup, and a tent had been erected to temporarily house them.
Pastor Bheki Khawula, of the nearby Mega Church International, said the church would donate food, clothing and blankets to the displaced people in the area.
Ngcobo believes the sea breeze had helped spread the fire up the hill on which the homes, made mainly of wood and asbestos, had stood.
Tyres used as a retaining wall, separating the different tiers on which the homes were built, were burned through.
“The pathways here are very narrow. Firefighters have to park far out on the road and sometimes use extensions for their hoses to get into the settlement,” Ngcobo said.
“While they are doing all that, the fire spreads.”
He praised firefighters for their quick response, which he believes saved the rest of the settlement.
Ngcobo called on the government to speed up the provision of housing to eradicate informal settlements and prevent further tragedies.
Officials from mayor James Nxumalo’s office were also at the scene on Sunday, but would not be drawn on what aid the city would provide.
They directed the Daily News to city spokesman, Thabo Mofokeng, who did not respond to calls or text messages by the time of publication.
Police spokesman, Captain Thulani Zwane, said a case of arson was being investigated but no arrests had been made.