AND NONTOBEKO MTSHALI
AS MILLIONS of people huddled around heaters to ward off the winter chill yesterday, some residents of Alexandra were out in the cold rebuilding shacks razed by fire.
While no one died in Alexandra, two people were burnt to death in Benoni and one in Diepsloot at the weekend.
ER24 spokeswoman Vanessa Jackson said the house in Benoni was already engulfed in flames when paramedics arrived on Saturday. “Fire and rescue workers were trying to rapidly extinguish the fire, but sadly it was too late for the two occupants of the house. A man and woman of unknown age were stuck inside the house and they both died in the fire.”
In Diepsloot, north of Joburg, one man also died during a house fire on Saturday night, according to Johannesburg Emergency Services spokesman Synock Matobako.
On Sunday morning, residents saw smoke coming from the house. They forced open the door and found the man had burnt to death. “He was alone in the house, as his mother had gone to church the previous night,” said Matobako.
In spite of the bitter cold, for Anton Khoza of Alexandra the only focus was to rebuild his life. As he mixed cement, his three sons put together bricks that had fallen off when their makeshift home was razed in a fire that started from an adjoining shack. “We have no choice,” said the 60-year-old man.
His son Domingo had been sleeping on Saturday evening when someone jolted him from sleep to warn him of the impending danger. Grabbing his five-year-old son, Domingo fled to safety. But the family has lost everything they owned. “I’m left with only the clothes I’m wearing. We even lost our passports,” he said.
Anton was the only member of the family of five, who had his passport on him.
While Anton’s sister and neighbour Maria Mthimkhulu’s house did not suffer much structural damage, the 48-year-old woman’s children lost their school books and uniforms.
“I have to go to schools tomorrow (Monday) to explain to teachers,” said Mthimkhulu.
While she scurried around trying to salvage whatever she could, neighbours came to the rescue, ensuring her children were fed and given a place to sleep.
“I just did not know where we were going to sleep. But my neighbours were really helpful,” said the mother of six, who also takes care of her late sister’s three children.
It is not yet known what caused the fire on Saturday night, but some residents said it had started from a locked shack nearby.
“We tried breaking the burglar bar, but failed. The shack was locked and the owner only showed up this morning (Sunday),” said John Hatlane, as he hammered nails on to the roof of his shack.
According to Ekurhuleni Disaster and Emergency Management spokesman William Ntladi, 100 shacks had burned down in Cleveland, an industrial area bordering Ekurhuleni and Joburg on Saturday night.
Ntladi said no one had been injured or died in the fire and families had been provided with food parcels and blankets. He said, according to preliminary information, the fire was sparked by a candle that had been left unattended.
He said the owner of the house where the fire is thought to have started has since gone missing and not been seen since the fire.
In Crown Mines, 10 houses had burned down and one man had sustained serious burn injuries, Matobako said. The man was taken to the hospital with burn wounds all over his body.