Bulelane Ntunuka, 21, died after a fire broke out in his shack in Mokwang Street, Motswedimosa, Ritchie, on Monday night and he was unable to escape.
His body was found burnt “pink as a doll” and “in a praying position” on his bed.
Residents on Wednesday gathered in front of the shack where Ntunuka died and said he could have been saved if they had access to running water to extinguish the fire, which broke out at around 9.30pm on Monday evening.
They said that the entire street has been without water for more than a year, with the municipality giving no reasons for the water cuts and dry taps.
One 2 500 litre JoJo tank services all the households in the street, where about 40 families live.
However, the tank, which is filled once to twice a week by the municipality, often runs dry, leaving residents without water for drinking, cooking, laundry, bathing and to flush toilets.
“If we are lucky, we maybe get five litres of water per day. The water is also dirty and makes us sick. Some days, there is absolutely nothing, leaving us to beg from other areas for as much as a sip of water,” one resident said.
One of Ntunuka’s neighbours, Desiree Jones, said that her husband saw black smoke coming from Ntunuka’s yard at around 9.30pm and at first thought it was a burning tyre.
However, upon further inspection, they saw that the smoke was coming from Ntunuka’s shack.
“I frantically screamed for help but there are no running taps in the street and residents came with small buckets of water in a desperate attempt to help extinguish the blaze. We used water from a tank I installed in my yard following the water shortage. The tank was filled by a water truck from the municipality after officials demanded we pay R200 ‘for the favour’,” Jones said.
“Other residents started pulling the shack apart in an attempt to free Ntunuka, but they could not get to him in time. We heard one last haunting scream and realised that he was dying.
“After residents managed to extinguish the fire, they found his body in a kneeling position on his bed, entirely burnt pink.”
She added that residents believed that they could have saved Ntunuka if there had been water in their taps and blamed the municipality for his death.
“He would have still been alive had we been able to connect a hose to the tap in his yard and extinguish the fire before it killed him,” one man said.
The residents said that the fire department only arrived on the scene after “everything was over”.
“The municipality must take responsibility for the death of this young man, as they are the ones who have left us without running water for more than a year.
“Numerous enquiries about the reasons for the dry taps have fallen on deaf ears. However, we still receive accounts for using water, while we have not had a drop for almost two years.”
Ntunuka’s mother, Mavis Noncebo Ntunuka, described her son as a “decent, kind-hearted boy”.
Julia Kok, who last saw Ntunuka earlier on Monday night, added that he was well-loved in the community as he was friendly and always willing to help where he could.
Municipal spokesperson, Sello Matsie, said on Wednesday that the municipality would be “looking into” the water issues faced by the residents in Mokwang Street.
Police spokesperson, Captain Sergio Kock, on Wednesday confirmed that the Modderrivier SAPS had opened an inquest into the death of a 20-year-old man following the incident.
“On Monday, at about 8pm, a shack fire occurred in Motshwedimosa in Ritchie. The exact cause of the incident is still being investigated. Anyone with information can call Detective Sergeant Wesley Matthews on 082 301 9995,” Kock said.
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