Philippi man couldn’t save his 6-year-old niece from burning shack

Oyama Meje and two adults died on Sunday night in Phola Park informal settlement fire

| By

Alunge Poni’s niece, Oyama Meje, died in a shack fire in Philippi East on Sunday. On Monday he and other residents tried to clear debris where the shacks burnt. Two other people in a separate shack also died in the fire. Photo: Sandiso Phaliso

  • Three people, including a 6-year-old girl, died in a fire at Phola Park informal settlement, Philippi East, on Sunday night.
  • About 14 people have been left homeless.
  • Fire services are yet to confirm the cause of the fire.

The uncle of six-year-old Oyama Meje has described the moments he and other neighours at Phola Park informal settlement, Philippi East, frantically tried to save his niece who was trapped inside a burning shack on Sunday night.

The families say the fire started after 10pm, just after loadshedding. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.

Three people – Oyama and two adult men, who were in another shack – died in the blaze, which also left 14 people homeless. Speaking to GroundUp on Monday, the families said they are devastated by the deaths.

Thembakazi Meje, Oyama’s mother, was inconsolable and crying when we arrived. “I was at a friend’s place when people said there was a fire at my place. I quickly ran but by the time I arrived, it was too late,” she said.

Alunge Poni, Oyama’s uncle, said he was playing games on his phone in a shack nearby when he smelt smoke and a few minutes later he went to investigate.

“For safety she [Thembakazi] locked the door, locking Oyama inside. Many people tried to free her from the burning shack but they could not overcome the heat, smoke and flames. I tried to kick the door open but the flames were too strong. I was suffocating,” said Poni.

Athanathi Kostawuli (27) and Lihle Qaqamba (26), who also died in the fire, had enjoyed a night out and were staying with a friend.

Three other shacks were also completely destroyed, leaving 14 people homeless and without any belongings, food or clothes.

Kostawuli’s older sister, Busi Kostawuli, said she saw her brother on Sunday afternoon when she left their home. “I received a call at about 1am from a woman that there was a tragedy, but they were not sure if it was my brother in the shack,” she said.

Qaqamba’s aunt, Thandiswa Qaqamba, said they were notified of her nephew’s death on Monday morning. “It’s devastating to lose a family member under such circumstances. We will do DNA tests so that his body may be released to us. We don’t have money because the little money we have, we are going to use it to bury him,” she said.

Jermaine Carelse, spokesperson for City of Cape Town Fire Services, told GroundUp that they were alerted to the fire just before 11pm. He said crews from Gugulethu, Lansdowne, Belhar and Mitchell’s Plain responded with three fire engines, two water tankers and a rescue vehicle.

“Firefighters managed to contain and extinguish the blaze by 23:40 that destroyed five structures and left 14 persons displaced. The bodies of two adult males and one female minor, who sustained fatal burn wounds, were discovered under the debris. The cause of the fire is unknown,” he said.

He said the scene was handed over to the South African Police Service (SAPS).

SAPS had not responded to our questions by Monday afternoon.

Ward councillor Zukisani Sopazi said, “It is never a good feeling to lose lives like this. At this moment, I can’t deny or confirm that the fire started because of loadshedding.”

TOPICS:  Fire Housing

Next:  DNA bungling delays justice for family of slain mother

Previous:  Two die in Khayelitsha shack fire

© 2023 GroundUp. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

You may republish this article, so long as you credit the authors and GroundUp, and do not change the text. Please include a link back to the original article.

We put an invisible pixel in the article so that we can count traffic to republishers. All analytics tools are solely on our servers. We do not give our logs to any third party. Logs are deleted after two weeks. We do not use any IP address identifying information except to count regional traffic. We are solely interested in counting hits, not tracking users. If you republish, please do not delete the invisible pixel.