A trip to the shops to buy half a loaf of bread saved a woman whose five relatives perished in a devastating fire.
Penny Mvundla from Meyerton, south of Johannesburg, survived the blaze that killed her parents, three children, including a six month-old baby. Mvundla dropped her halfloaf of bread on the stoep of her burning home and desperately screamed out, “mama mama!” But her calls were in vain.
Her parents Sibongile and Johannes Strauss, brother and the other two children died in the blaze. It was not clear what had caused the fire and police could not be reached for comment at the time of going to print.
Cousin and neighbour to the Strauss family, Madeleine Oelfse, spoke of their pain and helplessness.
“We’re still traumatised …we tried all we could possibly do to save them,” she said. Sibongile and Thomas Strauss had been watching television in the lounge with their six-month-old grandson when a fire broke out, according to neighbours.
Two other grandchildren, aged four and five, had been in separate bedrooms where they died of smoke inhalation. Unable to open the locked doors of the house, they would take their last breaths inside. Screams of “mama, mama” woke up a neighbour, who went to see what was happening.
This was around 8.30pm on Monday.
“I heard emotional screams and asked my husband to go out [of the house] and check what was happening,” said Oelfse who lives next to the family.
Oelfse said she and her husband wasted no time and pulled out fire extinguishers and hosepipes when they realised the house was ablaze. “We called emergency services, took out about three fire extinguishers and a hosepipe, screamed for help and did everything in our power to stop the fire,” she said.
Oelfse could not contain her emotions as she spoke of the ordeal.
“We’re devastated, because our efforts were not enough to save them … ” she said.
All that remained in the lounge were remnants of a television stand and couches. Baby nappies, a bed and a slightly burnt wardrobe full of clothes were all that could be saved from the fire in one of the bedrooms where four and fiveyear-old children died.
The five-year-old was reportedly adopted by the Strauss family at birth, while the fouryear-old and a six-month old were Mvundla’s family. Sibongile’s brother, Mzimeni Dineka described his deceased niece as “forever talking, smiling and singing”.
While the family had still been making peace with the deaths, Dineka said they took yet another blow after the mother of the two children was admitted to hospital.
“She is not well, she is traumatised, they took her to the doctor who said she must go to the hospital,” he said. Oelfse described Johannes as a hard working and intelligent man.
“He’s always been a hard worker, I remember when he did grade 12, he obtained four distinctions, but he was not happy with that, so he repeated and then obtained seven distinctions,” she recalled. Following his studies, Johannes enrolled at a culinary school where he graduated a cum laude.
Hannes Steyn of the Midvaal municipality emergency services team said 11 personnel were dispatched to the scene after a call was registered.
“The team arrived at 8.50pm, seven minutes after a complaint was reported. Efforts to save the children, aged four and five, were unsuccessful as paramedics tried to [resuscitate] the two children, who were found in the bedroom, and a male. The female and a child were burnt beyond recognition,” said Steyn.
He said it was unclear what had caused the fire, but investigations were under way. Neighbours arrived in small groups to pay tribute to the deceased yesterday. Community members blamed emergency services for being slow to get to the fire, and said more could have been done to save some family members.