South Africa: Child Dies in Shack Fire While Mother Was Out Keeping Neighbourhood Safe

A 17-month-old boy, Kungawo Mondile, became the first victim -- according to residents -- to die in a shack fire in Bobani Village informal settlement. The fire happened on Tuesday night in area 11 in Gunguluza, KwaNobuhle, Uitenhage.

"The last time I saw my son was in the morning, the day he died," said the boy's father, Xolani Skwati. "Ngawo [Kungawo] was playing alone in front of his mom's shack. I didn't want him to see me, because he would cry and want to go with me."

"It was about 11pm when I came to the scene. The fire was eating the shack very fast. My son was inside the burning shack. His mom, Nomaxabiso, was screaming, 'My child!' She had to be pulled away as she lunged towards the scorching flames," he said.

"I had slept in Duduza, because I wanted to be closer to taxis as I planned to look for a job the next day," said Skwati.

Kungawo's mother, Nomaxabiso Mondile, had left her shack to join other area committee members on a routine patrol. The looting of people's building material, such as zinc sheets, doors, and planks has become a problem for the neighbourhood. Hundreds of people have built shacks but have not yet occupied them. The area has no toilets, no electricity and no street lights, but new tarred roads and street names.

On Thursday afternoon, Skwati visited the scene of the fire. There were burnt potatoes, clothes and a cup lying in the ashes.

He said Mondile is "one of the outspoken residents who were elected to patrol the area ... Nomaxabiso didn't care about being liked or not."

A witness to the fire said: "We ran to get buckets of water to help to put out the blaze. The fire was too strong. A fire truck arrived but it was too late."

Police spokesperson Captain Gerda Swart said an inquest docket had been opened. She said in a separate fire on Thursday night, in Kwatsha Street, Kwanobuhle, a 76-year-old man died. The cause of fire has not yet been determined and an inquest was also opened.

GroundUp reported in February this year on the occupation of the vacant land, named after Nelson Mandela Bay Mayor Mongameli Bobani, by over 1,000 people from all the six wards of KwaNobuhle. This followed Bobani's announcement that there would be a freeze on evictions.

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