Family and friends of four Somali businessmen are devastated by the horrific death of the popular shopkeepers, who died in a blaze which gutted their spaza shop in Soweto-on-Sea early yesterday.
The victims – Ahmed Hurshe, 42, Hussein Gabow, 38, Rasheed Abdi, 30, and Aweys Abdi, 30 – who lived on the second storey of Nqolonbeni Spaza in Eluphumlweni Street, were asleep when the fire started in the downstairs kitchen shortly after 2am.
Family members who rushed to the scene were shocked when looters demanded access to the premises to help themselves to what was left inside.
Neighbours, who described the shopkeepers as generous and caring, are haunted by their cries for help.
Next-door neighbour Lusanda Kala, 20, said she had been wakened by a call from her uncle a few streets away. “When I woke up, all I saw was smoke coming from the windows – the big flames were mostly on the top side of the shop,” she said.
“We heard a window breaking – it seemed like they were trying to get out, but because the windows have burglar bars, they were trapped.
“People loved this shop and the shopkeepers.”
“I feel so bad that they died like this because they were very friendly – we were real neighbours.”
“It’s really terrible that we as a community could not do anything to save them,” Kala said.
Abdul Mahamud, 38, of Kwazakhele, the cousin of one of the victims, said: “This is so terrible – to have lost all four of them at once is a horrible experience.”
About 20 family members and friends cleared out the contents of the shop yesterday, loading damaged fridges, freezers and vegetable shelves onto bakkies for safekeeping.
Outside, a group of residents demanded to be let into the shop to take whatever was still left.
Family member Ali Yussuf, 27, of KwaDwesi, said that after the residents threatened their safety, they decided it was best to allow them to loot the shop.
Some of the looters took fruit, vegetables and small appliances, while others found money.
Another family member, Siyo Abukar, 31, of Korsten, who arrived at the scene of the blaze at about 2.30am, said there was nothing anyone could have done to save the four men.
“When we arrived, I could see it was too late. The fire had already reached them,” he said.
Nomathemba Siyanda, 65, said it was devastating because the victims had been good people.
“I can’t believe they have died,” she said.
“Just yesterday [Sunday], I was in the shop, and to wake up to this news – it’s devastating.”
“When I had a heart attack earlier in the year, they stayed with me until the ambulance came and when I got back from the hospital, they came to check up on me.”
“They did not deserve to die like this.”
Police spokesman Captain Andre Beetge said: “Preliminary investigations reveal the fire started in the lower section of the shack, where the kitchen is located.”
“It is suspected the men died of smoke inhalation, but this will only be confirmed after a postmortem.”
“At this stage, there is no sign of foul play.”
Beetge was unaware of any looting.
Additional reporting by Nothando Sorasi