Jika Joe hero dies in fire after shouting warning to neighbours

2012-08-01 00:00

BHEKI Zulu was unable to save his own life, but he ensured that scores of others in Jika Joe survived a blaze in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Zulu, of Greytown, was alone and asleep when the fire broke out in the Pietermaritzburg informal settlement.

Jika Joe committee member Bheki Dladla said Zulu screamed a warning, alerting sleeping residents to the fire, while he struggled to escape.

But it seems he was overcome by smoke and he died in the fire.

“People were awoken by his warning screams and everybody was running in all directions, escaping from the blaze. He could not save his own life, but those living closer to his own shack survived,” said Dladla.

Authorities have not yet established the cause of the fire, which destroyed 43 shacks, but residents of the settlement blamed a woman who had left a candle alight in her dwelling.

In July last year, the same part of the informal settlement burnt down, leaving the same people homeless, said resident Thembi Gumede.

“Some people look down on us, with some from the municipality and politicians telling us that we settled here illegally. Who in their right mind would opt to stay in such squalid conditions if there was better accommodation available? I have been staying here for more than 10 years now and I have been through the same ordeal a couple of times, but I’m still here because I have nowhere else to go. The sad part is that I have to start afresh collecting household items,” said Gumede.

The homeless residents were accommodated at a community hall in East Street and started rebuilding their shacks later in the morning.

The Msunduzi disaster management team provided them with mattresses and blankets.

Area councillor Naleni Atwaru said fires seemed to be a regular occurrence at the settlement every winter. “We acknowledge that the residents of Jika Joe have been without houses for 18 years. It is the responsibility of the Human Settlements Department to provide houses,” she said.

Disaster management official Graham Ngcongo could not explain why all the residents were not provided with temporary structures like those adjacent to the shacks, which residents believe are safer.

“We have accommodated the residents at a local community hall and we provided tents,” he said.

Senior Msunduzi fire divisional officer Essack Khan said the cause of the fire was not known.

Police spokesperson Lieutenant Joey Jeevan said the fire was being investigated.

Attempts to get hold of Zulu’s family, who were believed to be travelling to Pietermaritzburg last night, were unsuccessful.

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