Nun loses life trying to save them

Zinhle Mapumulo and Mhlaba Memela

Zinhle Mapumulo and Mhlaba Memela

Three chronically ill people, including a nun, have been burnt to death at a Roman Catholic hospice.

On Sunday morning the Maria Ratsehitz Mission Hospice, in Washbank near Dundee in KwaZulu-Natal, caught alight.

Three patients were too frail to escape from the burning double storey building. In an attempt to help the bedridden patients, one of the nuns went inside the burning building. She also burnt to death.

A sister at the hospice said it had eight patients: five were HIV-positive, two had TB and one was chronically ill.

Forensic experts were summoned from Pretoria to check the bodies before they were removed.

A nun from a nearby convent said the forensic experts arrived after 2pm yesterday to inspect the charred remains.

Police spokesman Inspector Thandanani Hlatshwayo confirmed that four people had died in the fire at the hospice.

He said the cause of the fire had yet to be established but police suspect that the fire may have been started when a patient tried to light a cigarette.

The man, whose name has been withheld until his next of kin have been notified, was the only patient who smoked.

Hlatshwayo said the fire had spread very quickly.

One of the deceased has been identified as Patrick Mphumeleli Hlatshwayo, 48.

Hlatshwayo arrived at the hospice in 2004 after suffering a severe stroke.

Hlatshwayo's sister, Nonhlanhla, said the family was in shock.

"I don't understand how people can be burnt to death at a hospice. It is supposed to rehabilitate people and help them get better. But these patients have died while in their care," she said.

"I can just imagine my brother lying helplessly in his bed, screaming for help.

"It must have been the worst pain ever, wishing that you can get up and run for your life but can't," said Nonhlanhla.

The names of the remaining victims will be released once their families have been notified.