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For giving her boyfriend’s brother a plate of food, Khosi Hadebe was accused of having an affair. It was a petty argument that ignited a full-blown inferno, leaving three children dead, their parents in a coma and the Zola community in mourning.

The children burnt to death in their small home in Zola, Soweto, yesterday morning after their father Vusi Masuku, apparently set their house alight.

Hadebe and Masuku were rushed to the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital. They survived but they suffered serious burns and are comatose.

Neighbours suspected events might turn tragic because shortly before midnight on Tuesday, they heard screams coming from the house.

Neighbours confirmed that the children’s parents had been arguing, yelling so loudly that the details of their dispute could be heard by people in the area.

In an apparent drunken rage, her boyfriend of more than a decade, Masuku, attacked Hadebe because he believed she was having an affair.

A group of neighbours responded to the screams, knocking on his door and telling him to calm down. It took almost half an hour, but eventually the man appeared to settle down and the neighbours returned home.

Residents at the scene said the 31-year-old man left the house shortly afterwards and returned before 1am.

He reportedly bought a can of petrol, which he allegedly used to douse his children, Hadebe and himself. Masuku had allegedly locked the door with a large, steel padlock from the inside before lighting a match to start the fire.

All three boys, Mpumi, 3, Sanele, 8, and Xolani, 10, died in the fire.

Neighbours were woken by screams and an explosion when the fridge compressor ignited.

A group of concerned residents tried to break down the door to the burning home.

They eventually managed to get inside and drag the couple out. But it was too late to save the children, whose bodies were burnt beyond recognition. “I will never get that picture (of the children) out of my head,” said a woman who had seen the blaze.

Emergency services arrived on the scene at about 1.30am and rescued the critically injured parents.

Johannesburg Emergency Services spokesman Robert Mulaudzi said they were both rushed to hospital where they were stabilised.

The man’s sister and brother, who visited the badly damaged home yesterday morning, corroborated the neighbours’ accounts.

Close to tears, his sister told The Star Africa that her brother had a history of abusing his partner of more than 10 years.

“He once burnt her with boiling water so badly she was in hospital for a month,” said the grieving sister, who had spent the morning comforting their distraught mother.

Hadebe had been too frightened to lay an assault charge against him then, and didn’t want her children to live without their father, the sister said.

“Now we’ve lost our nephews. We just need prayers to get us through this,” she said.

Jabulani police spokesman Kay Makhubela said if the man survived, he’d be charged with three counts of murder and one of attempted murder.