As residents struggled to come to terms with a second fire that swept through Dontse Yakhe in the early hours of Sunday April 16, barely a month after the Imizamo Yethu inferno that left more than 10 000 people homeless, one man was left pondering why he had lost more than most.
Outside Imizamo Yethu’s Iziko Lobomi centre on Monday, where Thula Thula Hout Bay had once again scrambled to provide relief efforts to more than 400 people affected by Sunday’s fire, Godfrey Thandolwethu Xotongo cut a desperate figure, and understandably so.
In one of the most tragic twists of fate imaginable, Mr Xotongo was again mourning the loss of a loved one, on this occasion his best friend and neighbour, Abongile Matomela, 28.
During the fire of Friday and Saturday March 10 and 11, Mr Xotongo’s half-brother, Siyabonga, 34, his wife, Nomaroma, 28, and their child, Ayabulela Ngceza, 2, perished in the unrelenting flames.
On both occasions Mr Xotongo had tried in vain to save those who died.
Fighting back the tears, Mr Xotongo said he and his friend had enjoyed a few drinks on Saturday night, before retiring to their respective shacks, which were next to each other.
“We were both asleep in our shacks. I then woke up at about 2am. The wind came through, and there was fire everywhere,” he said. “I went out of my shack and could see Abongile’s shack was still closed. I tried to open the door, but when he went to sleep Abongile used a chain to lock his door. He couldn’t get out, and died in the fire.”
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Mr Xotongo showed the Sentinel a scar on his ankle – a reminder of the night he fought to save his brother and brother’s family as their shack burnt.
“I still have this scar, and now this has happened. I have lost absolutely everything now. I’ve got two children and my wife, but where are they going to stay? I’m sending my children to live with relatives in Gugulethu. I need help, not just things for a house like a bed and stove, but after what’s happened, I need to speak to someone. I need counselling.”
More than 85 firefighters and 12 fire engines managed to extinguish much of the blaze by 5am.
Mr Matomela’s uncle, Cginikhaya Matomela, described his nephew as a “good guy” and a gentleman.
“He came to Dontsa Yakhe five years ago. He was originally from Butterworth in the Eastern Cape,” he said. “He was working here as an electrician, and was doing well. I’m feeling so down. I want to cry, but I am so shocked, I can’t even cry,” said Mr Matomela, an Imizamo Yethu resident of 15 years.
“Really, with everything that’s happened, the government needs to change this place. We need to have this area developed properly, not with shacks.”
On the site of Sunday’s fire, in the upper reaches of Dontsa Yakhe, children played amid the burnt-out shells of cars and the still-smouldering embers.
On this occasion the flames had jumped the road, affecting residents on both sides of the divide. Looking on the ruin of her home, Shamiso Kanjela said there was only one way to stop fires from happening.
“We have to have electricity in Dontsa Yakhe. There are people here who are coming home drunk at night and then lighting candles or paraffin lamps. They then fall asleep and the candles or lamps are knocked over, and this is what happens. We need electricity,” she said.
Ms Kanjela and her neighbours confirmed they were receiving food parcels and other assistance from Thula Thula, but suggested the operations centre be relocated to Dontsa Yakhe itself.
“We have to go down (to Iziko Lobomi) but this is not working. When we get there, people who have not been affected by the fire are taking the food. It would be much better if they put up a tent here in Dontsa Yakhe, so they can provide to people who really have been affected.”
Hout Bay police spokeswoman Warrant Officer Tanya Lesch said the cause of the fire was still unknown, and an inquest docket had been opened after the body of a 28-year-old man had been found.