A sombre mood blanketed the Pine Road informal settlement in Woodstock yesterday, Wednesday April 4, when a nine-month-old baby died in a shack fire.
The City of Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue Services responded to the fire in the early hours of the morning, which saw two shacks engulfed in flames, destroying everything in its path and resulting in the death of the baby girl.
Theo Layne, Fire and Rescue Services spokesperson, said the cause of the fire was “undetermined”. “The incident was handed over to the Woodstock police for further investigation into the matter,” Mr Layne said.
Lying sobbing on the fringes of the debris left in the fire’s wake, and where her daughter was last seen alive, Waseema Salie, struggled to contain herself and could barely speak.
Her close friend, Jonathan Martin, sat by her side. “I feel for her, because her baby was very young and this is not a nice way to die. She did not only lose her house, she lost her baby too and my heart is broken for her,” he said.
“I just really hope somebody can help her, because her life is now in pieces.”
Ms Salie made attempts to speak to the Tatler, but the rawness of her loss and the sight and smell of the aftermath of the fire was overwhelming. “Dis nie mooi nie, foeitog” (It’s not nice, shame), were murmured in the background by residents who made every effort to console the distraught mother.
The resident of the other shack destroyed in the fire was Maria Fillies. For Ms Fillies, who was overcome with emotion, the fire brought back memories of her husband, whom she lost in a shack fire five years ago.
Ms Fillies said: “It all happened too quickly”. She said in no time, her one-bedroom shack was up in flames and it was too late to save anything. “I went to bed just after 10pm last night and while sleeping, I felt this heat coming through and when I looked again, all I saw were flames. When I opened the door, more flames and I had no time to save anything.”
She stopped, pondered for a bit and then added: “My husband went like this too and I can only imagine what Waseema is feeling right now.”
When asked what she thought started the fire, she replied: “Nobody knows. I can only be happy that the Lord decided to smile down on me in this moment in time and allowed me to live another day. It’s very sad, the loss of a baby. But it’s all God’s will.”
Lucille Adriaanse, who lives metres away from the informal settlement, became emountional when she found out about the death of the infant. She said “a loss of a life, especially that young, is not something to deal with so easily”.
“There have been numerous problems at the camp, but not everybody is involved with those problems. A nine-month-old baby just lost her life and we have a mother grieving on a pile of rubble. It’s really not a nice thing to witness,” she said “I really hope somebody can help this mother.”
The Pine Road settlement has been dogged by allegations of illegal activity in the past. There have also been talks of the land on which the settlement is, being earmarked for social housing.
Ward councillor Dave Bryant empathised with the family of the deceased infant. “It is absolutely heart-breaking to hear of the death of the child and my heart goes out to the family. Tragedies like these further highlight the urgency that is required to address affordable housing issues across the area. We must do all we can to assist in providing all people with greater dignity and safer living environments.”
He said challenges with criminality are rife among many informal settlements across the city and he encouraged the public to report such criminalities to the local police. “The City does have a small Metro police unit that can assist with specialised drug operations.”
Pine Road informal settlement leader, Quinton Moos, confirmed that this had been the fourth life lost in the camp since 2013.
“We have been discussing with the City and requesting help, but nothing comes of it. We asked for electricity, nothing. I really don’t know why they do not want to help us,” Mr Moos added.
He said it was unclear what the cause of the fire was, but their focus was now on burying the infant.
“This little baby was muslim and needs to be buried according to muslim rites. The mother is quite distraught, so we are trying to assist her with the funeral arrangements,” he said.