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New roof over heads after fire tragedy

By Penwell Dlamini and Louise McAuliffe | Sep 07, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Charlotte Ndlovu shed tears of joy on Saturday when she received the keys to her newly rebuilt home in Orlando West, Soweto.

She was filled with mixed emotions as Mqondisi Gumede, managing director of construction company Imison, handed over the keys and asked her to tour her new, rebuilt home after the old one was destroyed in a fire.

It took Gumede's men just nine days to build Ndlovu's new three-bedroom house with a fitted bathroom, living room and kitchen.

"Though we can't bring back the three family members who died, we have been able to bring hope and a new beginning for Charlotte and her family," Gumede said.

More than R300000 has been pledged by companies and individuals since the tragedy struck Ndlovu's family.

Ndlovu's grand daughter Phindile, 30, great-grand-daughters Fikile and Paballo died in the fire started by an exploding gas heater on August 4. Ten family members were in the house when the heater exploded. Seven of them survived the blaze, but the house was badly damaged.

Ndlovu was happy to be back in her home, which she has occupied since 1957 and is next door to Nelson Mandela's house in Vilakazi Street.

"I'm happy that I have a new home but it can't bring back my family," Ndlovu said.

She told Sowetan of the precious memories of the good days she had in the house, which was demolished two weeks ago.

"When Nelson Mandela came out of prison I was the first person he took a picture with in this house," she said.

"Mandela got married to Winnie right in front of me and he used to come and see his daughters in my house while he was in hiding from the police who were searching for him," she said.

For Ndlovu, 81, her last great day was in July when her great-granddaughter Nthabeleng was brought to her after she was born.

Nthabeleng, who was 27 days old on the tragic night, was passed through the window by her mother Phindile, who later died in the fire.

Ndlovu's old friend Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was present to celebrate the handing over of the keys to Ndlovu's new house.

"This is a dream come true for this family. We are happy that the community came to their rescue and to help them salvage their lives after they were consumed by flames," said Madikizela-Mandela.

"It is so true that out of the darkest mud grows the whitest lily. The generosity of the public will go very far in the hearts of the people of Soweto.

"This tragedy is a painful reminder of our poverty - if we had not been so poor this would not have happened. What is happening today will restore their dignity and family life," she said.

Sipho Maseko, chief executive of BP Africa who donated R100000, said he was humbled by the act.

"It was the least we could do. The family lost loved ones, and we had to help them restart their lives," Maseko said.

Walking into her new home, Ndlovu said: "Only God can thank the people who have helped my family."

Also present after spending weeks in hospital was Mpho Hlophe, 28, who was instrumental in saving other family members during the blaze.

With burn wounds still visible on Hlophe's face, head and hands, he said: "It will take time for me to forget what happened that night."


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