‘It was like September 11’

2008-07-22 00:00

Pretoria — A man threw a suitcase from his flat on the 23rd floor of the burning Kruger Park apartment building in Pretoria’s city centre before he and his wife both jumped to their deaths after it.

From the street below, his brother begged him not to jump.

Some bystanders compared the shocking scene yesterday with the World Trade Centre terrorist tragedy in New York on September 11, 2001, where people gripped by fear jumped from the buildings that had been hit by aircraft.

Eyewitness Mpho Kapela said she saw a woman falling several storeys to her death.

“I was on the opposite side of the street … when I saw the woman fall. I immediately burst into tears and stood motionless and shocked on the spot. If I close my eyes, I see the images over and over again,” Kapela said.

Nico Botha, who works in the area, said he was “shaken up” by seeing the people jumping from the block of flats “just like at the World Trade Centre”.

“Hell, it’s horrible seeing something like that because you feel absolutely helpless …”

Provincial police spokesman Superintendent Eugene Opperman said that besides the couple who jumped, four other people, including a baby, had died.

It is not yet certain how the other four people died.

A member of the Schubart and Kruger Park Residents Committee (SKPRC), Ronnie Mahlangu, was arrested at about 5 pm yesterday on a charge of murder.

Before his arrest, he said to journalists at Pretoria High Court that the blood of the people who died at the Kruger Park flats is “on the hands of the mayor, the head of the city”.

Louise du Plessis of Lawyers for Human Rights, acting on behalf of the SKPRC in the High Court, said they did not have details of Mahlangu’s arrest.

“We presume it is related to what happened today [the six deaths],” Du Plessis said yesterday, according to a report by journalist Jeanne Mari Versluis.

Tshwane Emergency Services spokesman Johan Pieterse said the fire broke out at about 11 am yesterday in the rubbish chute of the Kruger Park apartment block on the corner of Schubart and Vermeulen streets. The police air wing called in the help of Squadron 17 of the Swartkop air force base in Centurion and saved 13 people from the building.

A statement by Executive Mayor Gwen Ramokgopa of the Tshwane Metro Council said that about 20 people were injured and several more were treated at the block of flats for minor injuries and smoke inhalation.

The trouble started yesterday morning at the Schubart Park apartment block.

Members of the Tshwane Metro Police and the so-called Red Ants, workers in red overalls who are appointed by the Justice Department, entered the block of flats. The fire was allegedly started by residents of Kruger Park after the Red Ants began evicting their neighbours in the Schubart Park block.

Along with flats in Kruger Park, 38 flats in Schubart Park were vacated.

By time of going to press, it was not known how many flats were vacated after an interdict was obtained in Pretoria High Court yesterday to prevent further evictions.

Opperman said an inquest into the deaths of the six people will be opened.

Tshwane spokesman Console Tleane said the building has been closed to the public. He could not say where residents of Kruger Park would be housed.

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