Pietermaritzburg family’s home allegedly set alight following service delivery protest
Share this article:
Durban: A Pietermaritzburg family were left heartbroken as they watched their home of 30 years burn after protesters allegedly set it alight.
Jaindhra Henry Lakhraj, 67, his wife, Meenakumari, 56, and their children, Olita, 38, and Romuleus, 34, of Copesville, allegedly came under attack on Thursday. The couple's children are unemployed.
A group of people, believed to be from a neighbouring informal settlement, were protesting after the power was not restored following an electrical outage earlier that day.
Bob Lakhraj, the family spokesperson and Jaindhra’s nephew, said the family called him just after 9pm on Thursday.
“Olita called me. She was frantic and shouting. She said: ‘Bhaiya, bhaiya (brother), they are burning our house.’ I live nearby, so when I arrived, I could not enter the road as the protesters blocked one of the entrances. A car was also in flames in the middle of the road and a few metres away from their home.
“Fortunately, I managed to access another entrance into their area. When I arrived, my uncle and his family were outside but their house was engulfed in flames."
Lakhraj said neighbours tried to douse the flames.
“The protesters continued to block the road, so the fire department and police were unable to get in. We tried to put out the fire but the flames were just too high. When the fire department finally managed to get things under control, the house was already destroyed."
Lakhraj said his family told him that the protesters allegedly broke the barbed wire fence around their three-bedroom free standing home and threw objects at the front windows, demanding to be let in.
“They even dragged burning tyres into the yard and left them outside their front door. My uncle said they kept shouting for them to open the door or they would burn the house. He said it got serious when they broke the lounge window burglar guards. My uncle said the family knew they had to get out.
“He said they ran to the back kitchen door and, seconds after opening the gate and running out, there was a loud sound and the house went up in flames. We are not sure if a petrol bomb was used. We don't want to speculate and will wait for the police to do their investigation. But it was devastating for my family and me to see their belongings, including all their important documents, such as their IDs and house papers, destroyed."
He said sentimental items were also burnt. These included all family pictures and a wicker basket that belonged to Jaindhra’s father. "They were left with nothing but the clothes on their backs."
Lakhraj said they believed the home was burnt because they had CCTV cameras on the property.
“For their safety, our family installed CCTV cameras around the house. There were two on the trees outside the home, which faced the road. There were also two at the front of the house and two at the back. It is believed that those that burnt the car, were probably trying to get the DVR machine that records the footage, so they could not be implicated.”
He said the formal and informal residents have lived together for years.
"My uncle was also the go-to person when someone from the informal settlement needed help, such as transport to the hospital. The formal residents are also faced with service delivery issues, such as electrical faults. It is not something that is out of the ordinary or affects only one community.
“This was an act of criminality and those responsible should be held accountable. Our family has been left traumatised. This home was a self-help council house, which my uncle built using the material provided by the council more than 30 years ago. This is where they raised their children and held many family gatherings over the years. Right now, they are living with friends and are praying they can return to their home."
Sher Singh, the secretary of the South African Minority Rights and Equality Movement (Samrem), said he would assist in rebuilding the family's home.
“This is a great devastation for this family and the community at large. We are now working at raising fund,s so that we can get the material and contractors to start rebuilding as soon as possible.”
Captain Nqobile Gwala, a provincial police spokesperson, said a case of public violence was being investigated. She said a group of people embarked on protest action at around 7pm on September 2.
“They blocked Greytown Road by burning tyres and also threw stones on police vehicles. The group moved to Copesville Drive and blocked vehicles from going in and out of the Copesville area. A house in Copesville caught fire during the protest.”
The ward councillor and the Mzundusi Municipality did not comment at the time of publication.