If the three coffins, each containing two people, lined up in a row didn’t tell a story, the wails of the mourners did.
It’s a story that has become all too familiar in South Africa: a poor family using gas suffers a tragedy, either a burnt-down home or a death. In this case, seven people died - and their home was gutted.
The tragic incident took place in the early hours of Friday morning, leaving a Karwastan, Chatsworth, family dead.
They were identified as Mukaram Mohommed Warsi, 45, his wife, Zainab Ebrahim, 30, three children, Thaiba, 9, Saiba, 4, and Rian, 18 months, mother-in-law Zareena Ebrahim, 55, and their domestic worker, identified only as “Thokozo”.
According to an official at the Pinetown mortuary, “Tho-kozo’s” family had not claimed her body yet.
A second family, Mohommed Nisar Sulaiman, his wife, Shaista, and their two children, Moindhen and Aisha, who also occupied a part of the house, escaped the blaze with minor injuries and are being housed at the Aryan Benevolent Home in Chatsworth.
The government, community leaders and residents have rallied to help the survivors by providing accommodation, food, clothing and other necessities to help them rebuild their lives.
MEC for Human Settlements and Public Works Ravi Pillay, was at the scene of the tragedy on Friday. He has been tasked with providing a report to the premier.
“I am deeply saddened by this tragedy and the extent of the loss of life. Individually and as government we have expressed our condolences to the bereaved families.
“It is heart-warming that community organisations and residents have readily come to the assistance of the survivors. Religious organisations have also rallied to ensure that the funerals take place according to the special religious prescripts,” said Pillay.
The fire is suspected to have been caused by a gas cylinder.
Describing his near-death experience, Sulaiman said his morning prayer turned into a nightmare after he smelt smoke in the house and discovered flames entering through a partition.
“I woke up to do my morning prayer at about 3.30am and smelt smoke. When I saw the house on fire, I immediately ran to my wife and kids, who were sleeping. I shouted: ‘We need to get out - the house is on fire’.”
He said his desperate urge to save his family gave him the strength to break the burglar guard, and they jumped out of a window.
“I could hear the other family screaming, but they were trapped inside and I couldn’t do much to help them. The flames were high, and sparks flew everywhere,” said Sulaiman.
“They had everything packed into boxes. They were going to move all of their belongings to their new house today (Friday). It is so unfortunate that their lives ended so tragically,” he said.
His wife, Shaista, said she felt the flames on her skin as they tried to escape the burning house.
“I am shocked. It all happened so quickly, but I am thankful that we are still alive. I still can’t believe that our tenants are all dead. Now we are focusing on rebuilding our lives because we lost everything,” she said.
As forensic experts sifted through the charred remains, they couldn’t tell the male from the female bodies. All they were able to determine was that they were adults and children.
A source close to the investigation said it was evident the family was in the process of moving house.
“All their belongings were packed into boxes. The family was supposed to move out of the house the day they died.”
He said five bodies were in the bedroom, two of which were under the bed, and two bodies were in the kitchen, along with that of a cat.
“The bodies were burnt beyond recognition and in pieces in the bedroom and kitchen. We were not able to identify male from female - only between adult and child.”
He said it was possible that the occupants inhaled smoke and collapsed, and had been unable to escape the inferno.
“It is also possible they were trapped in the house because the roof caved in. The investigations are ongoing,” he said.