Struggle to rebuild after fire destroys Khayelitsha children’s home

SAPS says an arrest has been made and an arson investigation is underway

Photo of woman in burned house

Nolubabalo Nditha points to the children’s rooms that were destroyed by fire last week. Photo: Thembela Ntongana

By Thembela Ntongana

21 November 2018

Sixteen children are living in a two-bedroom house in Khayelitsha after their home was burnt last week Wednesday during a break in.

Zanokhanyo Children’s Safety Home in Makhaza, Khayelitsha, burned down on 13 November after an attempted break-in. Little was saved and only two of the eight rooms remain useable, their walls dark from soot. A week after the fire you can still smell the smoke.

“These children come from abusive homes and this was a safe place for them; a place they could call home. Now that is gone,” said Zanokhanyo’s Children’s Home manager Nolubabalo Nditha.

Nditha, who opened the home in 2010 with six children, now offers shelter to 16 children and six young adults. She and the children have found shelter at a neighbour’s house while young adults are sharing part of the home that didn’t burn during the fire.

She says on Wednesday morning one of the children was getting ready to go to school when he saw fire coming from the shack they used as a storeroom.

“I went outside to check and because there is a container, that we use as a kitchen, blocking the way the fire didn’t look too strong. All I thought was to run inside the house and take out the gas stove,” says Nditha.

She says when she returned she saw that the fire had spread and would be coming into the house. “We started waking up the children and taking them to safety and everything that we could save.”

This is the second fire at the home. The first was in 2007 when four children died. Nditha says no one knows how the fire started. “We need any help we can get to make the lives of these children better,” said Nditha.

The home depends on monthly donations. Some months Nditha says there was as little as R1,000 in the bank. She has to pay for transport to school for most of the children, as well as food and clothing.

When GroundUp arrived at the home Nditha and three employees were cleaning at the neighbour’s house where the children are living. One of the older children was studying for his next test in a small room surrounded by clothes saved from the fire and others which have been donated. He is a mechanical engineering student at Northlink College.

Nditha took GroundUp through what remains of the shelter, pointing out where things used to be.

“This was one of the rooms and here is a kitchen but I can’t even recognise it now,” said Nditha. “We need a place to stay. We cannot stay like this for a long time.”

Suspect arrested

SAPS Lieutenant Colonel André Traut confirmed that a shack had been set alight on the morning of Tuesday 13 November.

“It is alleged that a suspect with the intention of stealing broke into the shack, stole some items and set the shack alight. A case of arson has been registered for investigation,” said Traut. “The investigation led to the arrest of a 25-year-old male suspect on Thursday 15 November.”

Cayla Ann Tomas Murray, spokesperson for Western Cape Department of Social Development Minister Albert Fritz, said that the department was aware of the fire and a social worker had been sent to the home.

“When engaging with the foster parent, she informed the social work practitioner that she has already made prior arrangements for the evening whereby she and the children concerned would be staying in a local bed and breakfast located within walking distance from her home,” said Murray.

“The social work practitioner confidently reported that no one has been injured during the fire and that the perpetrator was captured.”

Murray said Zanokhanyo is a registered NPO but is not registered as a children’s home. However, because Nditha is a registered foster mother with six children in her care, social work staff will provide assistance to her and the children.