Sunday Tribune: Killer fire leaves family destitute

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Killer fire leaves family destitute

November 04, 2007 Edition 3

Lerato Matsaneng

The mood at Durban’s Kennedy Road informal settlement was sombre this week after a shack fire claimed the life of a disabled 52-year-old woman. Sibongile Khuzwayo, also known as “Ma Khuzwayo”, had been living at the settlement for more than 20 years.

Her death has left her seven children and seven grandchildren destitute. They were all dependent on Khuzwayo’s disability grant.

The fire, caused when a candle fell off a table and on to a blanket, spread rapidly. A neighbouring shack also caught alight, but there was no further damage.

The children were able to jump out of windows and escape, but their disabled mother died. Neighbours tried to put out the fire with buckets of water, but it was too late.

Khuzwayo’s left leg had been amputated as a result of diabetes. While still recovering from the amputation, she had suffered a stroke that left her unable to fend for herself.

The family owned a big piece of land and their shack had been divided into seven rooms to accommodate them all. There was no electricity and they relied on candles for light and a paraffin stove for their cooking.

The family has now cleared some space next to their shack and started rebuilding their home from scraps they found at dump sites.

Sitting in their makeshift building, mourning the death of their mother, they spoke about the night she was killed.

Zanele Ngcobo, one of Khuzwayo’s grandchildren, said she had been sleeping next to her grandmother when she was woken by the fire. She tried to make her way out of the shack, but could not see anything through the smoke.

She eventually got out, but suffered severe burns to her right hand, which had to be treated at Addington Hospital.

Firefighters were called in to extinguish the flames.

Thokozani Khuzwayo, one of Khuzwayo’s daughters, said the family had been living with neighbours since the fire.

“We have nothing but the clothes on our backs,” she said. Neighbours have been giving them food and old clothes.

“We have nothing with which to bury our mother,” she cried.

The family have appealed for assistance.

At least four people have died in shack fires in Kennedy Road since October 2005 and many more have been left homeless.

The settlement has been vocal in its bid to get the eThekwini Municipality to supply it with basic services.

Lindani Figlan, chairman of the Kennedy Road Development Committee, said residents believed the municipality was trying to force them out of their homes and to accept relocation.