The families of five friends who died when the shack they were sleeping in burnt down in Khayelitsha on Friday morning say they are devastated by their deaths. Siviwe Xhalanga (pictured above) lost her sister and cousin in the fire. Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik
The families of five friends who died when the shack they were sleeping in burnt down in Khayelitsha on Friday morning say they are devastated by their deaths. Siviwe Xhalanga (pictured above) lost her sister and cousin in the fire. Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

Five friends died in a shack fire in Site B, Khayelitsha, in Cape Town, South Africa, on Friday morning. By By Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik.

Anitha Bhontsi (25), Sinovuyo Chali (25), cousins Nolufefe Zongile (27) and Mkhululu Tovana, along with another 34-year-old friend, whose family has asked that the name be withheld, were all in Zongile’s shack when the fire started.

The Fire and Rescue Service confirmed that only one structure was burnt. The scene was handed over to the police for investigation.

According to Zongile’s sister, Siviwe Xhalanga, the group had been celebrating after helping Zongile rebuild her shack after another fire had destroyed both of their shacks in November. Xhalanga said they suspect a candle to be the cause of the fire.


“My sister was living with her three-year-old daughter. Because she was unemployed, we struggled to rebuild all the shacks. We started with mine which we have been sharing. This month we rebuilt hers,” she said.

Xhalanga recalls hearing the haunting screams for help coming from her sister’s home around 2am. She said despite their efforts to douse the flames, no one survived.

“I lost two family members, my sister [Zongile] and my cousin [Tovana]. I don’t know how I’m going to bury them. We just used our last cents to rebuild her shack,” she said.

Neighbour Ntombizethu Venu said she was looking after Zongile’s daughter. Around 9pm on Thursday, Zongile came to fetch her daughter, but because she was already asleep, Venu told Zongile to leave her and collect her in the morning. “This is just a tragedy. We just thank God that the child was not there when the fire started,” she said.

Chali’s brother, Thobile Nodwele, said he too was at Zongile’s house on Thursday evening but left his sister there who was still chatting with their friends. “This is a sad time for the family. She was our family’s hope. She was doing her second year in False Bay College. We were all looking forward to having a teacher at home but now she is gone,” he said.

Published originally on GroundUp .
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