Testimony at Marshalltown fire inquiry: My child died as I watched

The judicial commission of inquiry into circumstances surrounding the deaths of 77 people at the Usindiso Building in Marshalltown, Johannesburg, heard more testimony from the survivors of the deadly fire.

On Tuesday, the commission of inquiry heard testimony from two former residents of the Usindiso Building who detailed what they saw and heard when the fire gutted the building.

The hearings of the commission are taking place at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown, Joburg.

Suvania Subroyen, who represents the former occupants of the building that caught fire on August 31, led the witnesses who gave testimony on Tuesday.

The first witness to take the stand was Daniel Mboza who testified about how he heard screams on the night of the fire.

Mboza said he started living at the Usindiso Building in 2019 and did not pay any rent. He said that on the night of the fire, he was fast asleep before the screams of other people woke him up.

“There was no electricity that night. So, I used my phone to provide lighting for my room. I heard people screaming, saying ‘it is burning’. I opened my room door and saw a lot of commotion outside.

I took my ID and cell and ran

“There was smoke and fire everywhere. I quickly took my ID (Identity Document), dressed up, took my cellphone and ran outside. “I used the building’s fire escape route because it was not on fire,” said Mboza.

He added that he does not know what caused the fire.

Siphiwe Ngcobo, another witness, said she lost her child during the fateful night of the fire.

Ngcobo said she was outside the building cooking on her braai stand when she heard a person crying on the night of the fire.

“I was standing outside with two Tanzanian nationals cooking with their stoves. I heard a person crying. I thought the person [who was crying] would come out of the building. The person did not come out.

“We then heard someone screaming that there was a fire. I tried to go upstairs to fetch my two children on the second floor where we lived. I could not reach the second floor because there were so many people on the stairs who were carrying beds and on top of each other,” said Ngcobo.

“I saw a resident with a fire extinguisher inside the building, and I asked him to go with me to the second floor so that he could assist me to find my children. The man could not come with me as other residents told him another section of the building was burning, and that he should go extinguish it.

“I kept looking for my children around the building, but I could not find them. Then the people who were helping clear out residents from the building told me no one is allowed to go inside the building anymore because of the ravaging fire,” said Ngcobo.

They told me my child has died

She said while she was outside the building, one of the residents told her one of her children was rescued and was placed in an ambulance.

“I asked the resident where my other child is, and he said he does not know. I asked him to go and look for her in the building. He went back into the building and came back with the child. I told him to rush the child to the ambulance. The paramedics attended to the child. While I was standing aside, watching the paramedics resuscitate my child, I saw them remove the equipment they were using to resuscitate my child from her body. I then went to the paramedics and asked them what was happening to my child. That is when they told me that my child had just died,” said Ngcobo while crying.

The commission’s hearings are currently continuing with testimony from other survivors. 

Sisi Khampepe, a retired former Constitutional Court judge, is the commission’s chair. The other commissioner is Vuyelwa Mathida Mabena.

The inquiry seeks to determine the cause of the fire and the prevalence of hijacked buildings in the Johannesburg CBD.

It will make a ruling and recommendations on who should shoulder the blame for the deaths, injuries and homelessness of those who survived the fire.

Seventy-seven people, including 12 children, died in the fire, while 88 other people were injured.

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