Six family members, including three children, die in Khayelitsha shack fire

One person is still being treated in hospital for life-threatening burns

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Relatives and community members go through the charred debris where six members of the same household died in a fire on Saturday morning at Blowy informal settlement in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. Photo: Vincent Lali

  • Six members of one household died, including three young children, in a shack fire in Blowy informal settlement, Khayelitsha, in the early hours of Saturday morning.
  • This is the second deadly fire at the informal settlement this month: on 9 July, a couple died and 25 people were left homeless.
  • Some of those affected were victims of a massive fire in 2018, when they were promised they’d be relocated. This never happened.

At least six family members died in a fire that broke out at Blowy informal settlement near Town Two in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, at the weekend. Four other shacks were also gutted, leaving more than a dozen people homeless.

The deceased relatives were: Zukiswa Shweni, aged 60, Nyameka Saliwa, 49, Anele Nqoshela, 31, Avela Shweni, seven, Lelokuhle Shweni, two, and nine-month-old Liyolatha Shweni. Another relative, Bongani Shweni, sustained serious burn wounds and is being treated at the Khayelitsha District Hospital.

This is the second deadly fire at Blowy informal settlement this month. On 9 July, a couple died and 25 people were left homeless after a fire gutted seven homes. Some of those fire victims had previously lost their homes in a fire that affected about 1,000 people in 2018. Community leaders say many of the victims were supposed to have been relocated to an area in Town Two after the 2018 fire, but this never happened.

City of Cape Town spokesperson for Fire and Rescue Service Jermaine Carelse said crews from Lansdowne, Macassar and Mitchells Plain were sent to the scene.

“Upon arrival we found several structures burning and crews were informed of more than one person unaccounted for. Three minors and three adults sustained fatal burn wounds. One adult male was rushed to hospital via ambulance. He received third-degree burn wounds and was in a critical condition,” he said.

According to a relative, Thembakazi Mtotoyi, the fire started when a family member was cooking on a paraffin stove after midnight on Saturday morning because there was load shedding.

Mtotoyi said the family is devastated by the loss. Most of them are unemployed and can’t afford to pay for DNA tests to officially verify the identities of the victims. She said it could costs about R9,000 for all six people. She is worried this may further delay laying their relatives to rest.

“We desperately need financial support because we don’t have money to bury six people … The police said the tests may take up to six months if we leave it to the government,” she said.

“The longer the bodies stay in a government mortuary, the more we feel traumatised,” she said.

Neliswa Mpunga, who lived near the family, said they were traumatised after seeing Bongani Shweni’s wounds. “I felt scared when I looked at him. Pieces of flesh fell off him. The fire blackened his whole body,” she said.

Mpunga, who lives with her two children, said the fire also destroyed her shack and they lost all their belongings. “The fire was already so big that I couldn’t do anything. I just watched as it burned my shack,” she said.

Another neighbour, Mboneli Rala, said he was saved by community members who kicked in his door to get him out of his burning shack. “I woke up when my neighbours pulled me out of my shack,” he said.

Rala said he and others collected water from the only working communal tap near Japhta Masemola Road to douse the fire. “We stood in line to fill our buckets and rushed back to extinguish the burning shack. If we had more water taps, we would have doused the fire faster and saved the family,” he said.

Mzikazi Twani, former chair of the local SANCO branch, said the community of Town Two would meet soon to discuss ways to support the family of the deceased and other fire victims.

TOPICS:  Housing

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