Durban - The loved ones of a Clare Estate widow – whose body was found early on Thursday after her home was torched – are struggling to come to terms with her gruesome death.

The charred remains of Kala Babulal, 64, were found in the house from which she ran a tuckshop.

She lived there alone.

Her neighbours tried to rescue her at about 1.30am, after being awoken by what they thought were firecrackers, but the flames were too intense.

Babulal’s family are convinced that she was the victim of a robbery gone awry.

“We believe that the house was broken into and the robbers then set it alight on their way out. This is not the first time that she had fallen victim to robbers,” said Babulal’s nephew, who asked not to be identified.

He said that the burglar guards outside a back window had been cut and bent upwards – he believes that this was the point of entry.

He said the front door and gate had been left open, which his aunt would never have done.

“She had lots of stock for the tuck shop and people who bought from her, knew that,” the nephew said. “There was another instance when she was in the house last year and the suspects came in through the roof. She was not hurt.”

He added that she had been living on her own for about 10 years since her husband died.

It was difficult to determine what had been lost in the blaze and what had been taken by the alleged intruders.

“Everything was burnt quite badly, so we are struggling to see what was lost,” he said.

“This is a bitter pill for us to swallow. A woman her age should never have had to face something like this. How can you do that to another human being?”

The police referred the Daily News to the eThekweni Fire Department who confirmed that the blaze virtually destroyed the house, while Babulal, its only occupant, was trapped inside.

Divisional commander Bheki Hadebe said his department had responded to the call at 1.30am and that it had taken the crew more than 30 minutes to put out the blaze.

“When we arrived, the house was burning. In fact, it was engulfed in flames.”

He said that they had been informed by neighbours that Babulal – described as the “old lady” – was inside the house, but they could not find her until the flames died down.

“It’s too early to say if the victim was dead before the house was set alight, or if she died in the fire. That will be for the post-mortem to determine.”

When asked about the alleged robbery, Hadebe said that while “no obvious foul play” was suspected, all fires were investigated.

“The investigation will continue until the cause of the fire is found.”

Neighbours said they had heard small explosions that sounded like fireworks.

“They sounded like those small, Tom Thumb crackers. When we looked outside the window, we saw huge flames, but we were scared to come out. We called the police instead,” said a neighbour, who asked not to be identified for fear of falling victim to the alleged robbers.

Another neighbour who asked to remain anonymous said that Babulal was very cautious, and often pushed the panic button which sent out a loud siren, prompting neighbours to check on her.

“Last night, we didn’t hear anything.

“It’s very strange because she was the kind of person who pushed that button at the slightest noise.”

The neighbour added that Babulal always seemed “scared” and “lived like a prisoner”.

She said that she and her family were shaken by the incident because her husband had tried to help Babulal.

“He wanted to go in and help her, but the flames were too high. He even connected the hose and tried to put the flames out from our yard.”

She said that other men in the area tried to push themselves between the burglar guards, and into the flames.

“A few tried, but they ended up with bloody hands because they cut themselves. I had to give a few of them towels.”

Daily News