FIVE members of the same family from Bulawayo’s Nketa 6 suburb were burnt to death while three others escaped, one with serious burns, after their rented house caught fire yesterday. Bulawayo’s chief fire officer Richard Peterson said arson could not be ruled out. The five have been identified as Ester Mazidziwa, 29, Learnmore Chidembo, 26, Brian, 19, and two daughters Nicollete, 12 and Nicky, 4.
The four-year-old, neighbours said, initially escaped but returned to the house for her mother, when the fire consumed her. Musafare Chidembo, who is Learmore’s elder brother, and whose wife was Mazidziwa, is being treated for serious burns at Mpilo Central Hospital.
His other children Mitchell, 9, and Tafadzwa, 12, escaped unhurt. Musafare’s elder brother, Erasmus, told The Chronicle the fire started after midnight when the children who survived were watching television.
The six-roomed house was completely destroyed by the inferno. The charred bodies had been taken away by the police when our news crew arrived yesterday morning. Scores of Nketa residents were still flocking to the house with some elderly people shedding tears.
As our news crew was conducting interviews, a woman believed to be the mother of one of Musafare’s children who survived the inferno emerged screaming and demanding to know the whereabouts of her son, Tafadzwa.
She cried uncontrollably only to calm down and leave after being told that Tafadzwa was safe with relatives in Nketa 9 suburb. Erasmus said the family was devastated by the tragedy.
“We’re shocked. We don’t know what to say. Losing five people at one go is hard to stomach,” he said. He requested financial assistance from the government and well-wishers to bury his relatives.
“My brother said the fire might have been caused by an electric fault, he said he saw flames through the ceiling before waking his family so that they could rush to safety,” he said. His brother, Erasmus said, rushed outside to push his kombi away from the burning house. He said thick smoke prevented Musafare from rushing back into the house to save his family.
Happy Chirozva, the landlord, said he found it strange that Musafare rushed outside to save his kombi without rescuing his family first. “I hear his children who were sleeping in the dining room told him the house was on fire. Instead of ensuring that everyone was rushed to safety, he went outside to push away the kombi,” said Chirozva. Peterson said the fire department was trying to establish if the fire was not started deliberately.
“So far, we’ve not established the cause of the fire but we’re not ruling out arson because the kombi which was parked outside seems to have caught the fire first. At the same time, the house window which was close to the vehicle was opened and that’s where a sofa also caught fire,” said Peterson.
“My heart is sore when I think of the four-year-old child. She had survived the inferno but went back for her mother, yet her father was busy with his kombis.
“I believe life is more valuable than a kombi. He should have used the time he spent pushing away the kombi to save his family. We wouldn’t be talking about such losses if he had done this.”
A neighbour who observed the fire said it spread fast through the ceiling. She said residents could not save the family as the house was filled with thick smoke. The residents said when the fire fighters arrived, it was too late and nothing could be saved.
National police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said police were investigating the incident. Those wishing to assist the family can visit house number 7201 Nketa 9 or call 0777416565 or 0778484881. chronicle