THREE young children, aged between 12 and 13, died as a blaze engulfed a house in Tonashe Street in Mlungisi in the early hours of Saturday morning.
The children – two girls and a boy – were all pupils at Masikhule Junior Secondary School in Sokolani village near Lady Frere.Police spokesman Captain Namhla Mdleleni said the children had returned from a chess tournament in East London and had arrived late in Komani due to the taxi protests which had disrupted traffic.
The children’s teacher, who was in Frontier Hospital recovering from burn wounds this week, offered to let them sleep at her house.Mdleleni said the cause of the fire was not clear but that a paraffin heater had been found inside the gutted house. Police had opened an inquest.Shocked community members who looked on this week said the lack of an adequate water supply hampered efforts to extinguish the fire.
Resident Bulelani Qowa said community members made desperate attempts to rescue the children but they could not douse the flames with the little water available.“We did not have enough water. The municipality had closed the water and all we were left with was the water we had stored in our buckets. We cut a water pipe outside hoping it would sprinkle some water but it was empty,” he said.
Qowa said numerous attempts to contact the fire department had been unsuccessful and that the fire brigade had only arrived an hour later, and could not put out the flames due to problems with their equipment.
“The fire brigade number could not go through and we had to call the East London fire services, who then alerted the fire fighters in Komani. They came and they found that there was a pipe they could not connect.”
A community member ran to the police station in panic but apparently found the on-duty officers sleeping.“The police said we must use our own phones to call an ambulance. The two police officers who came to the scene came with one torch and they did not do much to help. They refused to come close to the incident – they said they were scared to see the dead bodies and refused to help the forensic people carry the remains to the van,” the resident said.
As a result of their dissatisfaction with the police, residents marched to the police station on Saturday afternoon, demanding to see the newly appointed station commander, Colonel Gcinikaya Taleni, who then met with the residents. Qowa said Lukhanji executive mayor Nozi Makanda had visited them on Monday morning.“We do not understand why the municipality is closing the water, but the Lukhanji mayor visited us promising that they will work with the Chris Hani Municipality (CHDM) to solve this water problem.”
Resident Sisa Khambi said the deaths of the three children could have been prevented if there had been water. “They must try not to cut the water at night because these situations will still happen during winter time.”Taleni said they would investigate the allegations against the officers.“If indeed the complaints are true, I condemn the actions of the police because we are here to serve.”A memorial service was held on Tuesday at the Mathyantya Hall in Lady Frere. The children will be buried tomorrow.CHDM had not responded at the time of going to print.