Saturday, 2 Dec 2023

Kids 'die holding each other' after mums leave them home alone to go for drinks

Five young children ‘died holding each other’ when a fire engulfed their home after they were left there alone, it has been claimed.

The kids, aged between one and eight, were siblings and cousins whose mums had gone out drinking near the South African capital Pretoria on Saturday night, it is believed.

At around 4.26am on Sunday, emergency services were called to a fire in the informal settlement of Itireleng, southwest of the city.

Four shacks went up in flames, taking the lives of Lethokuhle and Siyanda Masango, aged one and four, along with their cousins Senzo Mahlatsi Machika, two, Themba Thulane, six, and eight-year-old Dimakatso.

‘The children’s bodies were close together and it seems they died holding each other,’ said neighbour Gilbert Mahlelebe.

Mums Lindiwe Machika, 39, and Zanele Machika, 36, were arrested and each charged with five counts of child negligence and five counts of culpable homicide.

The dad of three of the children, Johannes Masongwane, woke up to a nightmarish call from locals telling him his kids had died.

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He said there was so much destruction he could not ‘even point at his kids or their remains because everything was just ash’.

The devastated parent told local outlet SowetanLIVE: ‘I was with my children on Saturday and my partner told me she was taking our kids to visit their aunt (her sister).

‘I didn’t know they would be sleeping over there and only learnt about it late in the evening.

‘At about 3am, I got a call that my children had burnt. When I got to the scene, I found that my children had burnt beyond recognition.

‘Their mother and her sister were not there. They have ruined my life. I lost everything.’

Both mums, who are still in police custody, gave Mr Masongwane’s address as the place they would stay if Atteridgeville Magistrate’s Court granted them bail.

But Mr Masongwane refused to help them, saying: ‘I don’t want them near me, they should not receive bail.’

‘I will never forgive them – they must rot in jail,’ he added.

The kids’ paternal grandma Johanna said: ‘I am upset because the children had a good life with me and now they are gone.

‘(Their mums) must stay there and die in jail because we lost kids all because of alcohol, they deserve to die in prison.’

Mr Mahlelebe told how he and several others had to use buckets of water to bring the blaze under control themselves because the roads in the crowded area were too narrow for a fire engine to fit through.

Itireleng has long been classed as a dangerous place to live for its population of about 30,000 who largely live in poverty.

‘We want to urge our communities to cooperate and work with us to prevent the mushrooming of informal settlements,’ he said.

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