Aziz Manjra, 45, an Indian national who has lived in South Africa for the past 25 years, his South African wife Gori Bibi and their three children - Mairoonisa, 14, Muhammad Rizwan, 10, and Zubina, 18 - died after their Larch Road, Willowton, home was allegedly petrol-bombed by an unknown arsonist early on Thursday morning.
A source close to the investigation said the police, who gained entry to the house by breaking burglar guards on a window, had found a bottle containing petrol in the house.
A neighbour, who did not want to be named, said she met the family for the first time last week when she went to their home. She said she immediately recognised the husband as a shop assistant at a local general store. He also recognised her, she said.
“When Muhammad was a lot smaller, his father used to take him to work in his pram.”
The woman said her sleep was broken around 2am when she heard what sounded like footsteps on her roof.
“Our homes are semi-detached. Moments after hearing the footsteps, I heard a man shouting ‘Allah’.
“This was followed by screaming. I was terrified too scared to even go and check what was happening.”
She said she realised that the screams were coming from the top floor of her neighbour’s house.
“I alerted another neighbour and asked her to phone the police.”
The police arrived about 20 minutes later. The woman said she only went outside when she saw the police. By this time, the house was on fire.
“But, it wasn’t big flames. The fire department arrived a few minutes later and they quickly put the fire out.”
The woman said her worst fears came true when the firemen began removing bodies from the house.
“They brought the lifeless bodies out one by one they tried checking for signs of life, but there were none,” said the woman.
Speculation is rife that the petrol bomb was thrown through the lounge window.
It is believed the two younger children were sleeping in an upstairs bedroom, and may have died of smoke inhalation.
The couple and their eldest daughter were trapped downstairs.
They suffered severe burns.
The original homeowners, Fabian and Ronwyn Visagie, told The Mercury on Thursday that they had been in the final stages of selling the house to the Manjras.
“The house was sold to the Manjras via an estate agent. We did not know them personally.
“However, we did interact with them on a few occasions. They were a nice, normal family who were looking forward to living in their own house.
“They had rented a flat in town for many years. The kids were excited that they finally had a yard to play in,” Ronwyn said.
The Visagie’s went to the house soon after hearing the news and found forensic investigators still combing the scene.
“It’s surreal everybody is shocked. I didn’t know them but I cannot understand why anyone would have thrown a petrol bomb at them,” she said.
The Manjras took occupation of the house two weeks ago. The deal had been signed and sealed. They had just been waiting for the transfer of the property to be finalised.
Ronwyn said rumours were rife that the couple had been able to purchase their own home after receiving a “hefty” amount from a Road Accident Fund pay-out.
The source said it was unclear whether the payout was linked to the attack.
It is believed their son was involved in an accident in Church Street three years ago. He apparently suffered a broken arm and a broken hip.
Other onlookers at the scene said they, too, had heard the couple had been paid out R1.7million from the Road Accident Fund, which enabled them to buy the house.
The funeral for the family was expected to take place on Thursday night.
Pietermaritzburg police spokesperson Sergeant Mthokozisi Ngobese said they were investigating five cases of murder and a case of arson.