8 March 2018

South Africa: Mother Tells of Her Child's Death in Shack Fire

"I could hear him cry and then suddenly he stopped," says Lulama Ngqiyi, recalling the day her son died in a fire in Pholile Park in Strand on the night of 2 March. Her son, Lukho, was nine years old.

In her new one-room, rebuilt shack, she sits with her two daughters and her grandson on an orange plastic sheet to cover the sand below. The home has no furniture, only a small table for a candle and a few plastic bags of donated clothes used as pillows. In one corner is a crate with baby food.

The fire in Pholile Park left more than 150 people homeless that night. Ngqiyi lost everything.

When GroundUp met her she had just obtained a temporary ID to enable her to get her child's death certificate processed.

"I am not doing well. I'm not sure I will ever be fine after losing a child in that way," says Ngqiyi.

The fire started at 11pm in Ngqiyi's three-room shack, which she shared with her four children, her grandson and niece. The cause was an illegal connection. The power had gone off earlier in the evening and she had forgotten to switch off the plugs.

"By the time the electricity came back on we were sleeping and from the looks of things one plug burst behind the fridge in the kitchen," she says.

"We all ran outside and it was only then that we noticed that Lukho was not with us ... The shack had two doors and we used the one that didn't have a burglar bar. He went to the one that was locked.

"When we heard him cry we tried to break the burglar bar with other residents. Then suddenly he stopped, and we heard a loud noise after that. I knew that was my son dying," says Ngqiyi.

Ngqiyi is currently without work. Her last job was at a spaza shop making and selling amagwinya (vetkoek). The family depends solely on child grants at the moment.

"It is sad to see a child that young die before the parents, especially in that manner," says her brother, Bumbuluzana Pewu. "We are thankful that not everyone died and that some lives were saved."

Ward Councillor Jongidumo Maxheke told GroundUp that their office was still trying to get help for the family. "I understand the situation that the family is in and that they cannot afford to pay for the funeral, and I am trying to find help for them but nothing has come up so far."

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