04/03/2013. Community members of Winterveld near Pretoria taking a closer look at the burnt shack of an old man Jahannes Mlotha. Picture: Oupa Mokoena

Pretoria - The community of Jakhalsdans in Winterveld is trying to come to terms with the death of a pensioner in a fire at the weekend.

Johannes Mlotha’s charred remains were found by neighbours after his shack burned down early on Sunday. Mlotha, whose age is not known, was staying alone at the time of the fire.

Witnesses and neighbours said it appeared as though Mlotha’s arms and feet had been hacked off before the house was set alight.

Mlotha was found lying face up on the floor of his three-bedroomed shack, with debris on top of him.

Ward 8 branch executive committee member Lawrence Mokoena said yesterday it appeared that Mlotha had been killed before the shack was set alight.

Rosina Phakola, a neighbour, was one of the first people to arrive at the shack while the fire was raging. She said she did not believe the explanation that a lantern had caused the fire and Mlotha had been unable to escape.

Describing the scene, she said: “I heard screams outside while I was sleeping. I told my husband it could be drunkards, but my daughter-in-law came in and said a shack was on fire.

“We rushed outside to see what was happening and saw mkhulu’s (grandpa’s) shack on fire.”

Phakola called neighbours to help extinguish the flames and began to look for Mlotha.

When they did not at first see him, they thought he might be at church. But as day dawned and the fire was being put out, they saw his charred body, Phakola said.

“When they took out the body we saw that his arms and legs had been cut off,” she said.

Phakola was emotional as she spoke and kept asking what would possess another human being to commit such a crime.

“Who could have done this to mkhulu?” she said.

“What wrong did he do for them to do this to him? This man never bothered anyone - he was friendly with everyone.

“We are hurting as a community. We don’t believe the fire was started by a lantern. There is no way the candle could have done so much damage.

“Even the position we found him lying in is not consistent with someone who died due to fire. He was just lying face up and there was no sign of him trying to flee the burning shack.”

In speaking to Phakola, the Pretoria News established that Mlotha had been a victim of crime before.

Residents said a group used to visit Mlotha. A week after their visit, they would hear that Mlotha had been attacked and robbed of his pension money.

“Two weeks ago, there was a tall man in the yard with mkhulu and now this happened.

“A week after getting his pension money he would be attacked and robbed.

“The same thing happened shortly after Christmas. There was a young man with him and they were attacked. They were both tied up before mkhulu was assaulted and robbed.”

Police were not sure what led to the fire, said spokesman Colonel Sabata Mokgwabone.

“We suspect the lantern might have caused the fire,” he said.

“At this stage we don’t suspect foul play, but if anyone has information, please come forward with it.”

People with information regarding the fire or anyone who knows Mlotha’s relatives, who are said to live in KwaNdebele, are urged to contact Constable Mathews Mashamaite at 012 707 8900 or 079 913 7335.

Pretoria News