Joe Slovo fire victims battle to rebuild their lives

Two people died in a fire last month in Joe Slovo.

Two Joe Slovo families say they have been trying for over a month to get help from the City after their homes were destroyed in a fire that claimed the lives of a woman and a boy.

The fire destroyed two shacks in Joe Slovo’s Khozi Drive, on the night of Friday February 4. One of the shacks was a double-storey, where Monica Mbhalo, 46, and her 13-year-old son, Yakhanani, were sleeping. They both died.

The man who was sleeping in the shack next door escaped with only a single bag holding his clothes before it too was engulfed in flames.

Firefighters were alerted to the blaze at 11.04pm, according to City Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Jermaine Carelse.

“The cause of the fire is unknown. Crews from Brooklyn, Milnerton and Goodwood were on scene. Two fire engines, two water tankers and a rescue vehicle with a total of 16 firefighters. They managed to extinguish the fire at 12.26am.”

Mr Carelse did not respond to questions about the fatalities or whether the City would be taking any steps to help the surviving victims of the fire.

Zandile Mbhalo, 27, said the death of her mother and little brother in the fire had left her devastated.

“It’s been over a month, and we still don’t know what the cause of the fire was, how the investigation is going or if the City will assist us with the rebuilding. I have spoken to the councillor three times, and every time it’s the same thing. He keeps saying he will get back to me. We are all left in the dark. I live with my boyfriend in Khayelitsha now. But this is not ideal because my family home burned down, and we have no idea what happened.”

This is the spot where the two shacks stood before they were destroyed by a fire. The families who lost their homes say they have not received any form of government assistance and they had to clean up the debris themselves.

Fikiswa Nyishman is the owner of the other shack that was destroyed. Her brother was house-sitting for her that night while she visited relatives.

“I can’t even tell you what happened because I wasn’t here, but I am grateful that my children and I weren’t around. I got a phone call late at night and I came here to check the following morning. Right now, it’s a struggle though. My kids and I have nowhere to call our own place. I am relying on the kindness of neighbours to help me shelter my kids.”

Ms Nyishman has three children, aged 3, 10 and 12. The 3-year-old stays with her at a friend’s place in Summer Greens. The 12-year-old boy lives with a neighbour, Nomthunzi Sonti, while the 10-year-old girl lives with another friend in Bothasig.

“My family is scattered, and I don’t know what to do,” she said. “Promises have been made by the City for weeks now, and still no one has come to tell us if they will be able to help or they won’t.”

Ms Sonti, who witnessed the fire, said: “I heard screaming and shouting from people outside. I think it was around 10pm or so. The fire was already big, and residents were trying to stop the fire. The police and coroners were here as well. I took all the little kids that were outside that evening and put them in my house because I didn’t want them to see the bodies being taken out.”

Joe Slovo community leader Sibongile Kofi said he had arranged for ward councillor Anthony Benadie to meet Ms Nyishman and Ms Mbhalo.

Mr Benadie told Tabletalk that he was not aware of this particular fire but would be following up with community leaders.

The City did not respond to questions by time of publication.