ANGRY that his teenage girlfriend had not cleaned their room, a Pietermaritzburg man became enraged and allegedly doused her with petrol before setting her alight.
The 17-year-old girl sustained severe burn wounds to her face and hands and the fire destroyed five separate rooms rented by other families.
The teen’s 32-year-old boyfriend, a grass cutter, was arrested and charged with attempted murder. He is expected to appear in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court on April 25.
The couple had been renting one of 20 rooms in a house in Northdale for the past eight months. The blaze spread throughout the upper level of the home damaging five other rooms. Five children were treated for smoke inhalation.
A police source said the man was upset with the girl for not cleaning their room.
“He poured two litres of petrol that he used for his grass cutting business over her head and body before setting her alight.”
According to the man’s father, his son, who has two children from a previous relationship, was now suicidal.
“With the help of the police we are trying to get him counselling because he wants to kill himself. My son was diagnosed with a mental disability at the age of 5. He was enrolled in numerous schools for disabled children and still has the mental capacity of a child, but he seemed to be doing well. He was on medication but stopped taking it at the age of 10.”
The grandfather of five said he was sorry for what had happened to his son’s girlfriend.
“They met three years ago. She was living on the streets near a river in Pietermaritzburg. My son took her in and cared for her using his disability grant and money he made from cutting grass.”
The 48-year-old said the incident had torn his family apart.
“We cannot believe what has happened. My wife is devastated. Our son was never a violent person. He always seemed calm and timid. I pray that his girlfriend recovers from this ordeal. I am also traumatised by what has happened. In addition to this, my family and I have been getting threats from people in the community. I am now seeking help from my moulana.”
Tenant Bradley Perumal, whose room was also gutted in the fire, said minutes before the blaze he saw the couple fighting outside the home.
“The man was getting physical with the girl and I tried to stop him. He then grabbed her by the arm and took her to their room. Seconds later I heard her screaming ‘Help me, help me, I am on fire’. When I went to their room, I saw her entire body in flames. The man had run away. Other tenants and I tried to help her by throwing water on her head and body and hitting out the flames with mats. The man returned to the house 10 minutes later. He looked shaken.”
The father of three described the girl as hysterical.
“Her face was burnt badly. You could actually see the flesh melting off her face and hands. But while I was trying to help her, the fire spread to my room and destroyed my belongings. Two of my children were trapped inside. I rushed to their aid and managed to get them out. They suffered smoke inhalation, but are now doing well.”
Perumal, who is self-employed, said the fire spread to four other rooms, destroying tenants’ belongings.
“Everything we owned has been destroyed because of one man’s foolish behaviour. We now have to rebuild our lives. This is not going to be easy.”
Police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Thulani Zwane confirmed the arrest.