Family looks for answers after boy's burnt body removed from Bellville flat

2018-07-23 18:50
The flat that caught fire in Bellville, Cape Town (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

The flat that caught fire in Bellville, Cape Town (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

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Relatives of a boy who burnt to death in a fire at his home in a flat in Bellville on Monday are looking for answers after hearing that residents had been unable to douse the fire because taps were "locked".

This, as two women remained in a critical condition after jumping from the third floor. A baby who was with one of the women was unharmed, while a man injured his leg while fleeing down the stairs.

Charles Ntumba told News24 at the scene that he had rushed to the block of flats in Voortrekker Road as soon as he could, but it was too late for his 5-year-old nephew Nabi Mutoke.

"I feel like I am in a movie, like it's not real," he said, sitting on the pavement across the road, as firefighters mopped up and a pathology van waited for the boy's body to be brought down the stairs.

The family wailed when the small body, wrapped in cloth, was loaded into the van and driven away.

Ntumba said his nephew had been playful and often visited their house down the road to ask for things that he wanted.

Taps 'locked'

Just a day earlier, they had all been together and celebrating at a wedding.

Trying to piece together what had happened, he said his sister and her husband had been out working, while Nabi and his 15-year-old brother were at home with tenants who shared the flat.

He believed that the older brother had gone to an internet café and left Nabi at home.

READ: Boy, 5, killed in Bellville fire, women injured after jumping from 3rd floor

A 22-year-old resident who lived with her 2-year-old daughter and parents a few doors down said that they heard screams.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, she said they struggled through thick, black smoke to get down the stairwell.

"The men in the flats tried to use the taps but [they were] locked," she said, explaining that this had apparently been done to stop people from using too much water.

Mattresses used as padding

Scorched mattresses, one still in its plastic wrapping, lay on the sidewalk as water dripped from the blackened and shattered windows and wall of the flat above.

A video circulating on social media shows a woman on the pavement being dragged away. A short while later, another woman is seen leaping through the flames, landing on a mattress.

Employees in the shops below the flat told News24 how they had tried to save the women after hearing screams.

A man sweeping glass and dirt away from his café entrance said he had seen one of the women drop the baby down into the arms of a man on the scene.

"The woman was too scared to jump. She only jumped when the flames were on her," the man who identified himself as Abdul said. 

Johnson Njoroge, who worked at a furniture store on the ground floor but had not been there at the time of the fire, said it was his wife Ann who had come up with the idea to haul out their new mattresses to act as padding.

Inquest into boy's death

"My team had tried to give them stuff to jump onto," he said. "One person had already jumped without anything on the pavement."

He said his wife was traumatised by what had happened.

City of Cape Town fire and rescue services spokesperson Theo Layne said the cause of the fire was not yet clear.

He said one woman sustained burns to 60% of her body while the other had spinal injuries.

They were rushed to Tygerberg Hospital in a critical condition to be treated for burn wounds, smoke inhalation and trauma, said provincial emergency medical and forensic pathology services spokesperson Robert Daniels.

Police spokesperson Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana said an inquest into the 5-year-old boy's death had been opened.

"Circumstances surrounding this incident are under investigation."

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