Residents try in vain to open the barred gate at the shelter


Benjamin Bingham’s (8) blood-curdling screams sent residents of the Purple Moss shelter in North West running outside on Sunday night.

At that point, Benjamin tugged at the barred gate in front of his family’s burning room at the shelter. The room was engulfed in flames.

Residents of the shelter tried to help in vain. At that stage, no one knew where the barred gate’s key was or how to get the barred gate open. There was also no way to get Benjamin out through the barred gate to safety.

The boy finally died together with his parents, JP Bingham (26) and Esmé Labotske (25), and sisters, Mianique (3) and Luané (2), after the flames engulfed their room.

The fire is believed to have been caused by a candle that fell over during load shedding.

“The rest of the residents had to witness what happened there. What they experienced there, no one should experience,” says Elsa Lourens, local council member, after the tragedy.

Dirk van Schalkwyk (60), a resident of the Purple Moss shelter, lives in a wendy house on the premises. He says that he woke up just before 21:00 on Sunday evening from a commotion and went outside to investigate.

“When I came outside, everything was already over. The flames were already so bad that they could not be saved.”

Van Schalkwyk says “the young crowd” at Purple Moss are particularly traumatized. “They sent people to give us counselling. We just take it day by day. And we are rebuilding what we lost in the fire.”

Lourens visited the shelter on Monday. “The residents are in a delusion. These people are going to have to receive counselling.”

The help of counselors has already been called in to assist the residents.

According to Lourens, some of the firefighters who were on the scene on Sunday evening apparently also had to receive counseling on Monday.

At the time of the fire, Purple Moss on Zandfontein near Brits sheltered a total of 63 people, including children and the elderly. The shelter was once a school building that has now been converted into living quarters.

According to Lourens, five classrooms (which were converted into shelters) as well as the food storage room were destroyed in the fire.

Since the fire, the community has been inundated with donations of, among other things, food, clothes, blankets, mattresses, diapers and toiletries – so much so that plans must now be drawn up to store all the donations safely.

“We have more than we could hope for,” says Lourens about the generous help.

The undertaker Avbob meanwhile offered his services for free and a minister offered to conduct the funeral service.

“They always say a community is measured by how they stand together during a crisis…” says Lourens.