Lydenburg firetender breaks: 2 toddlers die in fire

Municipal manager paid R1,3million for 8-month contract… but there’s no money for a new fire-tender?

Two Afrikaans children die in fire in Lydenburg: the only municipal firetender had broken down enroute…
2011-04-13 Empoverished platinum mineworker Jan van Niekerk and his wife Belinda have lost their two small children in a fire in Lydenburg because the only working municipal firetender broke enroute  – and valuable time was wasted while private emergency-services rushed their free fire-engine to the scene. The Afrikaans children, Angelique (3) and Nico (2) were found dead in each other’s arms, hiding behind their bed. Their mother, who suffers from leukemia, sustained burn-wounds trying frantically to rescue them. The municipality has offered neither assistance, nor apologies or any condolances to the grieving, homeless Van Niekerk family.


Lydenburg taxpayers are up in arms about the tragedy: they have been complaining for years about the increasingly poor service from the local so-named “Thaba Cheweu” municipality’s fire-department. The fire broke out on Saturday around 07:45 in the children’s bedroom: the terrified children were trapped behind the barred security-windows one finds in every South African home because it’s such a dangerous society. Mrs Van Niekerk frantically tried to get in to rescue her babies, but sustained burns while waiting for the only working municipal fire-engine to arrive.

It never did: it broke down enroute. More valuable time then was wasted: the fire was finally doused by the private security company Medi-Response’s fire-tender, which is owned by local resident Mr Bart de Beer. The Lydenburg community has been relying for years on this free service from local private security companies, residents said. Deon Broekman of Rapid Response and paramedic Craig Schutte rushed into the burning house to try and save the children but found them dead in each other’s arms, hiding behind their bed.

The Van Niekerk couple and her daughter Rolanda Bain, 15, now live with family in Sabie and are totally destitute: they survived with only the clothes they were wearing. Mr Van Niekerk says his job is also in danger: since his car broke several months earlier, he’s been struggling to reach his job at the Everest Platinum Mine: he didn’t have enough money to fix it and was still buying the needed parts as he got paid each month. And these precious, carefully-hoarded spare parts also were destroyed in the fire.

Lydenburg residents have launched an emergency fund through the Lydenburg Outreach charity. And a reader of Beeld newspaper,  Marius de Beer, was one of the first to donate to it. People can help by donating to Lydenburg Outreach account, First National Bank branch code 270251; account number 62307453960. Mark the donation to the attention of the Van Niekerk family. Deposit-slip copies must be forwarded to Mrs E Sutherland,, telephone 0828288511 to help her keep track of the donations to the family.

Politically-incorrect details censored out by Beeld newspaper:

The local Lowvelder newspaper reported that a neighbour in Steyn Street, Hans Meyer, said he heard terrible screaming just after 8am from a woman, shouting for help. He noticed the house was on fire and contacted private security company Crime Combat Security – who sent emergency service personnel while the neighbours rushed in to try and douse the fire with garden-hoses.

The house burnt down. Broekman and Schutte who found the children’s charred bodies, said it appeared as if a heater may have caused a (smouldering) fire in the children’s room, and when the mother opened the door to try and get the children out, the fire flared up as the windows were shattered outwards.

The neighbours and bystanders also were constantly calling the fire-department – but its one and only firetender never did arrive. The children’s older sister Rolanda – a grade 9 pupil at the local High School, said she she heard the youngsters yelling, but that she thought the lively toddlers were just playing. She didn’t smell any smoke however she did head towards their bedroom to check up on them – and that’s when she saw flames coming from underneath the door and called her mom. Mrs Van Niekerk is a leukemia-sufferer and not well at all, she said. Mrs Van Niekerk was treated for her burn-woundsat the local hospital.

The father Jan, 41, heard the terrible news while at work at the Everest Platinum Mine about 46km outside Rustenburg. A friend rushed him home: his own car broke down several months earlier and he could not afford to have it fixed. Neighbour Mrs Spokie Grobler said they have known Mr van Niekerk for the past 17 years. The couple married about ten years ago and moved to the house in Lydenburg from Gravelotte about 4 months earlier.

Municipal spokesman: ‘not aware’… ‘so sorry’…

When the local newspaper contacted municipal spokesman Puleng Mapheto he said at first that he ‘was not aware of the incident’ at first – but later explained that their one and only fire-tender had broken down enroute to douse the fire. He was so sorry he said. He thanked the private emergency services for dousing the fire.. He offered no words of condolance to the family and the municipality has made no effort to try and help the destitute, homeless family. The children’s funeral takes place on Friday April 15 2011. 

Freedom Front Plus councillor Frik Rousseau and Democratic alliance city councillor Sonja Boshoff were horrified about the avoidable tragedy. Mrs Boshoff also was livid about the fact that emergency-services chief Mkhonto could not even be reached on his cellphone and that the fire-tender vehicle did not reach the scene. “The municipality has also made no attempt to try and assist the Van Niekerk family in any other way. This is gross neglect,’ she said.

Municipal manager paid R1,3million for 8-month contract… but there’s no money for a new fire-tender?

The poor emergency-services of the municipality have been raised by taxpayers and councillors repeatedly and for years – and without any kind of improvement.
“How many more residents have to pay with their lives before the council fixes this? This ANC-ruled council always tells us that ‘there are insufficient funds’ for the purchase of emergency-equipment.
At the same time they appointed  Billy Ralebipi as municipal manager at the astronomical salary of R1,3million for an 8-month contract.
Would it not have been much more appropriate to buy this much-needed equipment instead?” she fumed.  Rousseau said the FF also will “once again demand an investigation into the problems with the municipal emergency services.’



About Adriana Stuijt
Retired South African-Dutch journalist formerly Sunday Times Johannesburg

One Response to Lydenburg firetender breaks: 2 toddlers die in fire

  1. Hendrik de Klerk says:

    I’ve been a Lydenburg resident all my life. The whole problem, according to me, is that nobody cares about anybody anymore. It’s just money, money, bloody money. Where are the days, like in the days of the previous mayors Trumpelmann and Steinberg, when they didn’t even take their salaries as mayors, but gave it to the municipality to pay the guys cleaning the streets? Nowadays it’s a job to be mayor. Back then it was an honour. To all the money loving bastards out there: Go to hell and leave our town in peace. You have done enough damage.

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