Shack fire claims life of three-year-old

Mother asks for help to bury her son

By Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

3 May 2021

Photo of a burnt shack and bakkie

A three-year-old died in a shack fire in Cape Town near Mitchells Plain on Friday. Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

Tragedy struck in Siqalo informal settlement near Mitchells Plain, Cape Town on Friday.

Bulelwa Mili lost her three-year-old son when her shack burnt down. Mili was away at the time. Every Friday she leaves her house at 4:30am to go to Westgate to collect clothes and food donated by residents, which she then sells to support her children.

“When I came back my child’s lifeless body was lying there covered with a silver paper. That picture will remain in my mind forever,” said Mili.

Mili is 31 years old and unemployed. She had left Alunamda (Alu) in the care of her boyfriend. She suspects a candle started the fire. Siqalo is not electrified although some people who can afford it use illegal connections.

“My 11-year-old son asked to sleep at my sister’s shack because schools are closed. When I left, Alu was still sleeping. I told my boyfriend that I was leaving. I asked him to blow out the candle since they were still sleeping,” said Mili.

“When I returned home around 10am my son [Alu] was already gone [dead]. He managed to get off the bed and walked towards the door but the door was locked. He could not get out,” said the grieving mother.

When GroundUp arrived, Mili’s boyfriend was still being questioned by police. Police spokesperson Captain Frederick Van Wyk said an inquest has been opened.

Community leader Ndimphiwe Diza said they noticed the fire around 7am.

“We rushed here trying to extinguish the fire with water but with no luck. We suspected that children might be inside … We all know her situation that she survives by asking for old clothes at Westgate to sell.”

City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson Jermaine Carelse said two informal structures and a vehicle were damaged in the blaze. The cause of the fire has not been established.

“I have nothing. I don’t even know how to start preparing for his funeral. Fire destroyed everything. We are only left with the clothes we are wearing. I don’t even know who to ask for help. Please help me to bury my son,” said Mili.