'Sorry, I couldn't save them' - distraught teen whose siblings died in fire

2018-09-23 09:57
feeling guilty Fire surviver Simphiwe Ngubeni looks on in pain as his siblings and cousin are buried. He has not forgiven himself for not being able to help the young children PHOTOs: Rosetta Msimango

feeling guilty Fire surviver Simphiwe Ngubeni looks on in pain as his siblings and cousin are buried. He has not forgiven himself for not being able to help the young children PHOTOs: Rosetta Msimango

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WATCH: 40 shacks burn down in Joburg as temperatures plummet

2018-07-05 15:35

More than 20 shacks have been destroyed in Alexandra in an early morning fire, according to Johannesburg Emergency Services.WATCH

Simphiwe Ngubeni is battling to come to terms with hearing the dying screams of his cousin and three little siblings.

The slightly built 14-year-old boy is racked with guilt that he could not save the children who died as a fire engulfed their two-room house in Alexandra early last Sunday morning while their mothers were allegedly at a local shebeen.

After the funeral on Thursday afternoon, a shattered Simphiwe told City Press that he would never forget how his siblings Nhlanhla (7), Sandile (4) and Amukelani (2), and cousin Mbalenhle Fihlani (5) died.

Smartly dressed in a white shirt with blue jeans, Simphiwe agreed to speak to City Press. His uncle, Mzwandile Godloza, gave consent for him to be interviewed. Although the visibly distraught Simphiwe battled to stand still and fought away tears as he spoke, he appeared desperate for people to know that he tried his best to save the children’s lives.

“I was sleeping on the mattress in the kitchen. It was about 05:00 when I heard them screaming. While I was trying to stand up I inhaled smoke. At first I thought I was dreaming until I realised the house was on fire. I couldn’t open my eyes – it just went blank,” he said.

“Going to the room where the children were sleeping was a mission. I was very drowsy and helpless.”

Before he even reached the bedroom door he heard what sounded like an explosion.

“Immediately after the sound stopped, the kids also stopped screaming. There was silence in the room. That’s when I kicked the kitchen door and rushed outside seeking help, but it was too late. They were gone. I couldn’t save them.”

Simphiwe was the only survivor of the fire, believed to have been caused by a heater which had been left on. His mother, Bongiwe Ngubeni, and his aunt, Nelisiwe Fihlani, had allegedly gone out to a local shebeen.

The devastated boy said he would never forget the good times he spent with them. His face lit up as he recalled the happy memories.

“I will miss watching their favourite TV channel, Disney Junior, with them. I will miss the days when we would fight for the remote control. They didn’t want any disturbance when they were watching their favourite channel,” he said.

“Life will never be the same without them. I am going to miss their noise in the house.”

An emotional Godloza said his sisters were also devastated about their children’s deaths.

“I am just praying they don’t take their own lives. They are very disturbed by this. They couldn’t even speak when I saw them on Tuesday,” he said, adding that they were also receiving counselling.

He said it was sad that Bongiwe and Nelisiwe weren’t allowed to bury their children on Thursday and that it was unfair because they did not kill the children intentionally; it was a mistake.

“This could have happened to any parent. What I can tell you is that they both loved their children. Already it is a punishment for a parent to lose three kids,” he said.

Police spokesperson Kay Makhubela said the two mothers were facing charges of negligence and culpable homicide.

But the neighbours disagreed with Godloza, telling City Press on Tuesday that it wasn’t the first time the two parents had left the children in Simphiwe’s care. “When we broke the news to the parents that their children had burnt to death, we found them in a shebeen, sloshed,” said one.

Community leader Linda Twala said the correctional services department had refused to release the two women for the funeral, saying that if they had released them, the angry community could have killed them.

“Even after I wrote an affidavit to the department giving them the assurance that they would be protected, they still denied their release,” Twala said.

Some community members told City Press the women needed to be punished for negligence.

“They used to go partying every weekend; this was bound to happen,” said another neighbour.

But some residents said it was unfair to paint Bongiwe and Nelisiwe as parents who didn’t care for their children.

“They loved their children. They did everything they could to make sure they had everything they needed,” said another neighbour.

Godloza said although his sisters loved to go out and party, as a family they were not blaming them for their children’s deaths.

“In everything that happened let’s not forget to paint a positive picture that Bongiwe and Nelisiwe loved their children,” he said.

Sonwabo Mdange, the deputy principal of Emfundiswe Primary School, which Nonhlanhla and Mbalenhle used to attend, agreed with Godloza that the women loved their children very much.

“Every morning I would watch their mothers accompany them to school and after school they would fetch them. They did this every day without fail,” Mdange said.

“The most affected pupils are their classmates and their teachers, because they spent the most time with them. When they look at Nonhlanhla and Mbalenhle’s chairs where they used to sit they will always remember them.”

Godloza says Simphiwe had been seriously affected by his siblings’ deaths and the family was ensuring that he received counselling, saying: “So far he has attended one session and, as family, we’ll make sure he attends more sessions to help him heal.”

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