Firebomb kills five

2018-04-13 16:15
Police and forensic officers at the scene where five people burnt to death in the early hours of Thursday morning in Larch road in Willowton.

Police and forensic officers at the scene where five people burnt to death in the early hours of Thursday morning in Larch road in Willowton. (Nhlanhla Nkosi )

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An apparent firebombing on Thursday claimed the lives of five people who had moved into their new double-storey home only a week ago, amid rumours of an argument with a neighbour the night before.

Police are still unsure what the exact cause of the fatal blaze was, but it is suspected that a petrol bomb was thrown into the house in a quiet side street in Willowton at around 3.30 am on Thursday.

Husband and father Aziz Manjra (46), his wife Amina Essop (46), 14-year-old Mehrunissa, her eight-year-old brother, Rizwaan, and the family’s tenant, Zaiboon Valley (50), were found dead in their Larch Road house, in “The Village” off Manning Road near Brookside Mall, by the Pietermaritzburg Fire Department.

A police source who could not be named said an intensive investigation would be launched as “no one is really sure what happened”. The source said it is alleged the cause of the fire was a petrol bomb.

The source added that while there were many rumours and stories surrounding the mystery blaze, it was believed that there was a dispute between Aziz and a neighbour the night before the incident, although this could not be confirmed.

Other sources told The Witness that the house was well alight when firefighters arrived and that they found the gate chained and padlocked and had to cut their way through to get inside.

The bodies of the victims were found inside by firefighters who moved them to the veranda so they could battle the blaze.

Neighbours and family friends who waited behind police cordon tape on Thursday morning said the family had moved into the home only a week ago.

A friend and former neighbour of the family, Imraan Karida, said Aziz had moved from India to South Africa around 25 years ago and he had known “the loud, happy family man” for the past 13 years.

Karida said he had lived opposite the family in a block of flats in the CBD.

“He was a big family man and he had a very good family.”

Another family acquaintance who wished not to be named said he was sad “such a nice guy had to die along with his family”.

He said he had seen Aziz at the Brookside Mall’s supermarket at around 6 pm on Wednesday but did not greet him because he was in a rush.

He added that he had spoken to Mehrunissa a few days ago about the family’s move to their new house.

Daymed Ambulance Services paramedic Kaylim Naidoo arrived at the scene shortly after the fire department extinguished the blaze.

“It is a double-storey house. The bottom of the house [ground floor] was burnt beyond recognition. Everything was just black. Some things had turned to ash.”

He said it appeared that Aziz was badly burned, however, the other four victims suffered minor burns and were suspected to have died from smoke inhalation. He added that the neighbours only came out of their homes once they heard sirens. Onlookers at the scene on Thursday morning commented that they had not heard any screaming or any commotion.

Pietermaritzburg police spokesperson Sergeant Mthokozisi Ngobese said on Thursday that five cases of murder and a charge of arson had been opened at the Pietermaritzburg police station and investigations are ongoing.

Shri Vishnu Primary School principal Preggy Moodley, said the eight-year-old Rizwaan was a Grade 4 pupil at the school. He said he had been at the school since Grade R.

“We are all so distraught,” said Moodley. “He was a bright pupil. He was very sharp in maths and he will be missed by all the teachers.”

He said Rizwaan was dropped at school each morning by his father, and had recently decided he was “too old to kiss his father goodbye”.

“He just used to come in through the gate and wave goodbye, we have those fond memories of him.”

He said the family was humble and did not have much.

He added that Rizwaan had been in an accident two years ago, and the school had helped the family get through the tough time.

Kharina Secondary School principal Shaun Moodley said Mehrunissa, a Grade 10 pupil, had been at the school since Grade 8 and was well liked by her classmates and teachers.

“She was absolutely lovely, really bubbly and kind and considerate.”

He said he would be organising counselling for Mehrunissa’s classmates who were “devastated” when they heard about their friend’s death.

He also said that the mother, Amina, also known as “Gorie” to many, had recently approached him about placing Rizwaan at Kharina Secondary.

Amina was a popular salesperson at Hasmani’s Wholesalers in Church Street. Hasmani’s manager Adnaan Variawa said they were all in shock, adding that Ziboon, the tenant, had also worked at Hasmani’s.

The family are survived by their eldest daughter who graduated from Kharina Secondary two years ago and recently married and moved to Johannesburg.

Other relatives in Pietermaritzburg declined to comment on Thursday, saying it was not part of their faith to speak to the media or pay tributes in the press.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  house fire

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