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Father of three kids who died in shack fire 'won't forgive'

She fetched the children from me now they're just ashes

Five children burned to death in a shack fire in Itireleng informal settlement near Laudium, Pretoria.
Five children burned to death in a shack fire in Itireleng informal settlement near Laudium, Pretoria.
Image: Thulani Mbele

“I will never forgive them. They must rot in jail.”

These are the words of a distraught Johannes Masongwane, the father of three of five children who perished following a shack fire at Itireleng informal settlement in Laudium, Pretoria, on Sunday.

His partner and her sister who allegedly left the children alone overnight were arrested following the tragedy that claimed his children’s lives.

They are aged two, six and eight.

Speaking to Sowetan on Monday, Masongwane recalled how he was woken up by a phone call from one of the neighbours, telling him about the fire that destroyed four shacks.

“I was with my children on Saturday and my partner told me she was taking our kids to visit their aunt (partner’s sister). I didn’t know they would be sleeping over there and only learnt about it late in the evening.

“At about 3am, I got a call that my children have burnt. When I got to the scene, I found that my children had burnt beyond recognition. Their mother and her sister were not there. They [sisters] have ruined my life,” said a weeping Masongwane.

“I couldn’t even spot or point at my kids or their remains because everything was just ash.”

Tshwane emergency services spokesperson said: “It is alleged that the two sisters left the children in one shack overnight and went out to drink at a nearby tavern.

“The sisters were arrested and taken to the local police station for questioning.”

Masongwane said he had warned his partner about leaving the children unattended.

“I used to warn her as I knew something bad will happen but I never anticipated something like this. I am broken. I did not speak to them when they arrived at the scene on Sunday. I never want to speak to them ever again,” he said.

Sowetan is withholding the names of the children as their mother has not appeared in court.

Masongwane’s mother Johanna Masongwane said she was shattered.

“My son and I have not eaten. My son has accepted the unfortunate incident. He said to me, ‘mama, it’s okay because the mother of my kids did not even care about my kids,” she said.

She said her grandchildren stayed at her home until the June school holidays when their mother took them away.

“I am upset because they had a good life with me and now they are gone. They (sisters) must stay there and die in jail because we lost kids all because of alcohol, they deserve to die in prison,” she said.

Neighbour Gilbert Mahlelebe who helped put out the fire said he was woken up by a smell of smoke. His shack also burnt down.

“I went out and saw a fire. I screamed for help and other neighbours woke up. We started using buckets of water to try put out the fire. None of us knew that there were people in the shack as there were no screams coming from the shack where the children were.

“We had to put out the fire using buckets of water because the fire engine could not drive closer to the shack because the roads are narrow. The children’s bodies were close together and it seems they died holding each other,” said Mahlelebe.

“I lost everything,” he added.

MEC for human settlement and infrastructure development, Lebogang Maile, visited the settlement on Monday and described it as inhabitable, saying the the city has been given a budget amounting to billions to move the settlement.

“I cannot give time frames as to when these people will be moved but the city has to do something about this place,” said Maile.

The settlement has illegal electricity connections, sewage leaks and congested shacks.


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