Johannesburg - "Thank you for the wonderful meal, Mama. I’m going out to play now.”
These were the last words 10-year-old Phiwe Shoba spoke to his mother, moments before he was crushed to death when a brick wall from a derelict building in the Joburg CBD collapsed on him on Monday afternoon.
Phiwe was one of three children who died when the wall fell on them in Davies Street, Doornfontein, while they were playing in the street - a day before schools re-opened in Gauteng.
The tragedy occurred in the wake of Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba reiterating that the city would begin expropriating hazardous inner-city buildings, amid accusations from human rights organisations who claimed the city had betrayed its downtrodden residents.
Phiwe’s mother, Mfisane Shoba, could not mask her grief as she described the final moments she shared with her last-born child, who was a Grade 5 learner.
“I had just made him lunch, and he thanked me with a warm smile.
“He said he was full and wanted to enjoy his last day of the school holidays,” she said.
“Five minutes had hardly passed after Phiwe left the flat, when there was a loud bang in the street and I heard people screaming.
“I looked outside and saw that a wall in the building opposite mine had collapsed.
“When I went out into the street, I saw my boy lying crushed under a large pile of bricks. He was dead,” said a sobbing Shoba.
What agonised her further, Shoba added, was that this was her second child to meet a tragic death. Her 20-year-old son, who was writing his matric final exams in 2014, was shot dead by a stray bullet in their hometown of Msinga in KwaZulu-Natal.
“I’m beginning to wonder if I’m cursed. I don’t know how I’m going to live after this.
“I’m not even sure how I’m going to bury my son,” a grief-stricken Shoba said.
Equally shattered was Tholakele Zuma, the mother of six-year-old, Nqubeko.
Zuma said she undertook the harrowing task of lifting scores of bricks off her little boy’s lifeless body.
He was a Grade 1 learner.
The weeping mother said she identified her son’s lifeless body by the jacket he was wearing, which she had dressed him in shortly before he asked if he could go outside and play with his friends.
“As I was cleaning our flat, I saw the concrete structure collapse. Everyone inside and outside the building started screaming. I immediately saw Nqubeko’s jacket and ran towards him.
“The sight of my son’s crushed body will forever be etched in my memory,” she said,
Like Shoba, Zuma also doesn’t know how the family will be able to afford to bury him.
Meanwhile, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA (Seri) slammed Joburg Metro on Monday in the wake of the disaster, charging that the city had kept the residents in the derelict building waiting for eight months for emergency housing.
Seri said it had been pressing Joburg since July to assist 300 people living in three dangerous buildings in Davies Street, but that the city had failed to provide a safe alternative.
“Tragedies like this wall collapsing today (yesterday) could be avoided if the city had allocated more resources to basic, safe and decent accommodation for the very poor, such as those in Davies Street,” said Seri’s director of litigation Nomzamo Zondo.
Mashaba said a team had been set up to explore the expropriation of derelict inner-city buildings in an attempt to create what the mayor said was affordable accommodation.
Mashaba added that the city was looking for the owners of these buildings, but were hoping to expropriate them if they couldn’t find the owners. The mayor added that alternative accommodation was being sought for the remaining residents and that the city’s disaster management team had collected the names of the occupants.