Local councillors are shocked at the appalling conditions in which the 11 families lived at the Lahore Road flats which were gutted in a fire last Monday. Councillors claimed they were unaware of the conditions of the flats that housed 54 people including a one-month old baby.
The rooms, subdivided by partitioning and cordoned-off doors, housed families with more than four members each. Limited ablution facilities meant that the five families on the second floor were forced to share one toilet. There was only one bathtub inside the home for all the families to use.
ANC PR councillor Rachel Soobiah said she contacted and confronted the landlord, Fathima Shaik.
“I have contacted the landlord and I confronted her on the conditions of the flats. I notified her that we will be further investigating the living conditions at the flats,” she said
Shaik, who received the house as a wedding gift from her father, said she started renting it out two years ago but was unable to control the people moving in.
“When I started renting out the building in 2016, it was just to a young man, his wife and two kids but he began bringing in family members who I allowed to stay as they needed help. In January this year when I heard that a few of them were involved in consuming drugs, I tried to evict them but I was unsuccessful. I am also aware of the sub-divisions made to the house as I allowed the tenants to make them in order to avoid quarrels,” she said.
She fainted when she heard that her house was on fire which has led her to avoid returning to the site. “I was really shocked when I heard what happened. I fainted and injured myself. My phone was unreachable as it broke when I fell.”
Shaik said she had spoken to the alleged arsonist, Nathan Rampersad (33), prior to the blaze. “Earlier on before the fire when I saw Nathan, he said that he will set fire to the house as he was tired of being made a stupid.” Rampersad appeared in court last Wednesday on arson and attempted murder charges after he set fire to his girlfriend, 17-year-old Nana Gwala, following an argument over cleaning his room. It is alleged he used an accelerant, causing the whole house to go up in flames.
Shaik expressed concern for Gwala. “I want to look into her eyes. I just want to hug her. Once I see her, I will be able to feel much better; I don’t feel well as I have not seen her. She is such a sweet person and I really want to know what was going on in Nathan’s mind at that moment as I know that he really loved her. I also hope that the other families are able to find good homes. I love helping humanity and I feel bad for what has happened,” said Shaik
According to tenant, Charlene Govender, there was no problem with the landlord. “We got on with the landlord. She liked our children except for the times when she would come to collect rent. My husband and I worked very hard to ensure that our rent of R1800 was paid every month. We were happy here but were planning on moving as my children are growing. They are my main concern. They are traumatised and have not been to school since. We are really thankful for all the help and assistance we have received,” she said.
Govender lived in one of the rooms with her husband and two children, aged 11 and 15. They stayed at the flats due to affordability.
Yasmin Goolam, another tenant, said, “We pay an amount of R2200 a month. When my spouse started living with me, an amount of R400 was added. According to the landlord, this is the way rent is collected and added for a new tenant.”
When Public Eye visited the house, it was evident that one occupant slept on a single mattress in a cramped space under the stairwell. His clothes and belongings lay strewn around the tight enclosure.
Community members, councillors and religious organisations have worked tirelessly in order to assist the families with clothing, food and even accommodation. Soobiah said suitable accommodation had been found for the families. “There has been immense help from everyone and I would like to express thanks for all the assistance received. We have found suitable accommodation and have even secured rent for a month,” she said.
Of the 11 families, seven are staying at the accommodation that was found for them.
Msunduzi disaster manager, Jugathesan Padayachee, said there has been no decision made regarding the house yet. “I have contacted the various departments regarding the condition of the house. We will be visiting the site soon and from there we will make a combined decision,” said Padayachee