Hout Bay woman kills herself after her house burns down twice

2017-07-28 06:23
The house in Dontse Yakhe, Hout Bay, that Crystal Lallo died in (Jenni Evans, News24)

The house in Dontse Yakhe, Hout Bay, that Crystal Lallo died in (Jenni Evans, News24)

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Cape Town - Watching her small shack burn down twice this year and her whole family's belongings go up in flames seemed to be the last straw for Hout Bay domestic worker Crystal Lallo.

In despair, the 40-year-old decided she could not carry on any more and killed herself.

"Whatever went through her mind, she was a very good person," said her distraught nephew Romano Links.

Links found the body of his "Auntie Tiya" in her rusted corrugated iron shack in Dontse Yakhe, a section of fire-ravaged Imizamo Yethu, on July 18.

Western Cape police spokesperson Sergeant Leon Fortuin confirmed an inquest had been opened.

In the first fire between March 11 and 12, which left thousands homeless and three dead, the Lallos lost everything - from school clothes, to bedding, to furniture.

Ironically, only a Bible was not burnt.

City of Cape Town deputy mayor Ian Nielson said at the time the blaze was one of the worst informal settlement fires the city had experienced.

Crystal's husband Melvin, a painter, went to the bank to ask for the release of some of their modest savings so that he could build a new shack for the family, and possibly replace some of the bare essentials that they had lost.

Six people lived in the shack - Crystal, Melvin, their children Melanie, 19, and Monefa, 16, Melanie's  4-year-old son "MJ", and a nephew, Byron, 28.

Shack caught fire again

They had opted to not live in the emergency camp of shacks and portaloos on the Hout Bay sports field which the city had provided, and moved in with the Links family in a small, cheerful, yellow brick house at the bottom of the hill.

And then, just as they were getting their feet back on the ground and had managed to rebuild their shack, it caught fire again in one of the many isolated fires that are rarely reported on.

Once more, they were left with nothing but cinders and blackened corrugated iron to live in. Crystal and Melvin had to move back in with them, said Links. They had to find the money to rebuild for a second time in a year.

Asiphe Koli is a 24-year-old single mum who lives in the emergency camp over the road from Imizamo Yethu.

She and Crystal knew each other in Dontse Yakhe, at the top of Imizamo Yethu, before the fire split them all up.

They would say hello as they passed each other in the muddy pathways between shacks, or stood at the communal tap to get water for cooking, washing and bathing. Sometimes they spoke about matters of the heart. Koli often sought advice from Lallo, as she coped with her own responsibilities as a young mother studying part-time to get her electrical engineering qualification from college.

The night before Crystal died, she arrived unexpectedly at Koli's shack on the sports field, distressed and in tears.


"She didn't talk too much. But she said she's angry."

"She stayed long, she was crying a lot," said Koli as her two-month old son Samuel enjoyed his morning nap.

"She said, 'I don't know, what must I do?'"

She spoke of layers of problems that had left her helpless.

"Then she said: 'Okay, maybe it's at the end of my life - I don't know'," said Koli.

She reassured her friend that she would eventually be fine, and that she should share her problems, just as she was doing in her own life as a single mother, surviving on the R700 a fortnight she earns at a fruit and vegetable shop.

Koli's own life is a daily struggle to carry water in a bucket from an outside tap, to warm it up to wash her baby and tend to his frequent feeding routine. She has to wash his clothes and leave them to dry on a fence during the rainy season, and hope nobody pinches them.

Cleaning herself involves a long walk to the short row of cold showers on a trailer, and then only if she can find somebody she trusts enough to keep an eye on Samuel.

Even going to the cramped blue portaloo involves a trip away from the shack and a baby-sitter for Samuel, then a trip to the communal taps to wash her hands because those next to the portaloos do not work. She struggles to take shifts at work due to child care and so is battling to raise the R450 a month she needs to stay on her course.

So although there was an age-difference between the two women, both faced the daily battle to do the best they could for their families.

Back home

After about two hours of talking, and sipping at the cups of water that Koli insisted she drink, Crystal left and headed home. That was the last time Koli saw her alive.

According to Links, the day before she died, Crystal had called him to thank him for helping them clear and clean the burnt-out shack after the second fire.

She told him that even though it was not ready yet for them to move in, she and her husband were going to spend the night there.

"She told me she just wanted to be back home," said Links.

Crystal, Melvin and the children had moved in again with Links's family after the second fire.

The words "family love" had been crayoned on the front wall of the bright yellow house near the police station, but Crystal just wanted to be back in her own space.

However, the next morning, after her father had left for work, Crystal's daughter Melanie let the family know that she could not get hold of her mother.

Links and another cousin Gershwin stood with Melanie outside the shack, knocking and calling.

To get there they had to scramble up boulders smeared with rotting rubble, over piles of stinking water, and the black stumps of burnt trees. There are few fences between houses there, so there was no privacy as the family tragedy unfolded.

Everything is a blur

He said he wanted to kick the door down, but the Crystal he knew would be very cross if she came home to find her front door hanging off its hinges.

"She would have shouted at me if I kicked the door down," smiled Links.

His aunt had settled in Imizamo Yethu from Namaquland in the Northern Cape many years ago, and had been married to her husband Melvin of more than 20 years.

She was the child of farm workers and had built up a career as a respected domestic worker at a family in Hout Bay that was "very good" to her, said Links. She was a happy person who was strict and took no nonsense.

But Links was still shocked when he eventually kicked the door down. Almost everything else is a blur, but he remembers his cousin Gershwin running away in shock.

"I couldn't sleep for two days after that," said Links.

He has not been for counselling but to make the pain go away he jogs. He hopes to get a call back for a job he applied for at a bank, so that there will at least be some light during the family's time of darkness.

Crystal Lallo will be cremated at a service in her honour to be held in Imizamo Yethu on Saturday.

* Social worker Angie Nyamunetsa invites Imizamo Yethu and Hout Bay residents to contact Community Cohesion on 061 683 6943 to make an appointment for free counselling. It is facilitated by the department of social development and is able to assist in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa. With some notice, the social workers and counsellors can also assist in the languages of Malawi, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

* If you or a loved one experience some of these suicide warning signs, please seek help immediately: Talking about suicide and death, deciding on a suicide method and making the necessary preparations, withdrawing from friends and family, mood swings, feeling hopeless or trapped, changing your normal routine, increasing use of drink and drugs, getting affairs in order, saying goodbye to people, experiencing extreme anxiety, agitation, or enraged behaviour. The SA Depression and Anxiety Group offers a 24-hour help line on 0800 12 13 14 or a 24-hour SMS line on 31393.  

Read more on:    cape town  |  fires

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