Three young children burnt to death in their small home in Zola, Soweto, on Wednesday morning after their father reportedly set their house alight in a family murder and attempted suicide.
Their parents were rushed to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital on Wednesday morning, both of them having survived the incident despite serious burns.
Neighbours said they had suspected events might turn tragic as just before midnight they heard screams coming from the house.
Several neighbours confirmed that the children’s parents had been engaged in a massive argument, yelling so loudly that the details of their dispute could be heard by people in the area.
The children’s mom had seemingly given food to the father’s estranged brother.
In an apparent drunken rage, the man attacked her, believing she was having an affair.
A group of neighbours responded to the screams, knocking on his door and telling him to calm down. It took almost half an hour, but eventually the man appeared to settle down and the neighbours returned home.
People on the scene said the 31-year-old man left the house shortly after, and returned before 1am.
He reportedly bought a can of petrol which he allegedly used to douse his children, their mom and himself. He had locked the door with a large, steel padlock from the inside before lighting a match, causing the petrol to catch fire. All three boys, aged three, eight and 10, died in the blaze.
Neighbours were woken by the screams. And then there was an explosion when the fridge compressor ignited.
The property landlord and a group of concerned residents tried to break down the door to the burning home. They eventually got inside and dragged the couple out.
But it was too late to save the children, whose bodies were burnt beyond recognition.
Emergency services arrived on the scene at about 1.30am and rescued the critically injured parents.
According to Johannesburg Emergency Services spokesman Robert Mulaudzi, both were rushed to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital where they were stabilised. The man’s sister and brother, who visited the badly damaged home on Wednesday morning, corroborated the neighbours’ accounts.
Close to tears, his sister told The Star that her brother had a history of abusing his partner of 10 years.
“He once burnt her with boiling water so badly she was in hospital for a month,” said the grieving sister, who had spent the morning comforting their distraught mom.
The deceased children’s mother had been too frightened to charge the man with assault following the boiling water incident, and didn’t want her children to live without their father, the sister said.
“Now we’ve lost our nephews and brother. We just need prayers to get us through this,” she said.
Jabulani police spokesman Kay Makhubela said if the man survived he’d be charged with three counts of murder and one of attempted murder. He cannot be identified until he appears in court.