By Tauhierah Salie
An elderly Mitchells Plain resident is seeking assistance after her house was the target of an arson attack at the weekend.
Pensioner Gadija Cariem, her three sons and their children have been staying at the house in Alberton Road, Portlands, for at least 20 years. A petrol-bomb thrown on the roof of their garage early on Sunday morning destroyed it and the two cars inside.
A door in the kitchen opens to the garage on the side of the house. The entire garage had caught alight, engulfing the garage structure, kitchen door and steel cabinet used to store tools. The electrical system housed in the kitchen was ripped out for fear of catching alight as well.
Cariem said she was beside herself with panic and was nearly severely injured when they tried to escape. The blaze caused a window between the garage and porch to burst, threatening to spread to the rest of the house.
The 68-year-old single mother said she was awoken by the urgent screams of her 11-year-old grandson.
“I first thought it was shooting or gangsters the way he was shouting. When I looked, I saw the car on fire. The kitchen door was on fire and burnt off already and then the fire came. When I came out of the door the window burst and I had to run back inside. I was so lucky. I was in such a panic,” recalled Cariem.
The boy had been calling to his 42-year-old father and the two began stumbling for buckets of water. Her son’s three-year-old twin girls were also in the house at the time.
“Everything we tried to touch was hot, as if it were close to catching fire. The boy is faster than (my son) but it was like he was in a panic. Its little water that they’d throw,” she said.
“My son tried to unlock the gate but it was so hot that the key bent. But, Alghamdulilah (praise be to Allah), we got it open so we could run out,” educed Cariem.
The teary-eyed mother and grandmother explained that she has already had three heart attacks and currently has a stent and a balloon.
In February, the delicate woman had fallen on her porch and severely damaged her arm. Unfortunately, she says only received the MRI scan in December where it was confirmed that a ligament was torn. She explained that when ambulance assessed her on Sunday, the nurse agreed to treat not only the smoke inhalation but also her arm. She requires regular injections and physiotherapy.
Spokesperson Jermaine Carelse confirmed that Fire and Rescue services responded to the incident at around 4am.
“A motor vehicle was destroyed and a dwelling partially damaged. A man and a woman (were) treated for smoke inhalation on scene and Metro ambulance 61 transported the two patients to Mitchell’s Plain Day hospital,” confirmed Carelse.
“I’m so tired, there’s so much going on in my head. I slept about an hour last night because of the fumes smell. That’s why I sat outside yesterday (Monday) because my heart can’t take it,” said Cariem.
The man that received treatment was her 42-year-old son, Nazeem Stemmet, whose left arm had burnt as he tried to subdue the flames. He had refused to be taken to hospital at the time and was too emotional to give comment.
There were also concerns about the gas tank positioned in the kitchen and that it would too explode.
“It could have happened that the gas tank exploded. Then the kitchen would’ve been completely destroyed. And here,” said Cariem, gesturing to the lounge we sat in.
Her daughter-in-law, Yumna, arrived at the house around 10am when family members began trickling in. She explained that the gas exploding was their biggest fear.
“The only thing we were worried about was the gas- because it could’ve been worse. Everybody was in shock. We’re just glad they’re safe and nothing happened to them,” said Yumna.
Cariem recalled that her niece, Asheeqah, was distraught by the news.
“When she was looking at pictures her friends showed her; there wasn’t a number (on the house), but when she recognized the pillars she said “that’s my grandma’s house”- she burst out crying.”
The pensioner could be heard saying “Ya Allah” under her breath as she pointed out the destruction. Tuesday was the first time she scrutinized the damages.
Temporary structures such as a garage and kitchen door were replaced by her nephew; but the damage remained extensive.
The traumatized woman couldn’t watch the video of the blaze taken outside her house and said it pained her too much. A loyal family friend, Isgak Jacobs, was there to offer emotional support. Cariem said after the ordeal her family and friends came but having to retell the story seems to be causing secondary trauma.
Social services had not yet been deployed to her home and she has not been offered counselling.
“It’s as if I’m nervous all the time. The phone keeps ringing and everyone asks and I have to tell the story all the time. If I just sit and think about it… it’s like my body jerks in my sleep then I’d burst out in tears. Then I’d sit and make Thikr so it can pass but it keeps coming back,” sighed Cariem.
Cariem explained that the three-year-old twins who were in the house at the time of the incident, are still traumatized. Their mother took them to the doctor to have their chests checked out.
“They didn’t want to come into the house, they’d run and say ‘the house is going to burn’. I could see they were very nervous. This morning also, they asked me ‘is the house going to burn again ma?’ In today’s time you need to give children good guidance because times are different. Life is tough, you’re not safe anywhere. You can walk out and something can happened to you- its dangerous everywhere.”
When asked why her house was targeted, she said the family doesn’t have enemies and had no concrete explanation. Cariem however speculated that, although none of her sons are gangsters ‘or have nometjies or anything like that’, one of them may have spoken out of turn and upset someone dangerous or criminal.
“I suspect it could be something that was thrown… why would it start by the garage?” she questioned, pointing out that there were no electrical appliances that could have caught fire.
“I believe whole-heartedly that you don’t live just like you want to. Don’t make enemies or be quick with your mouth- try to avoid too.”
“There’s no way out here, we would’ve had to climb over the (high) walls to get away. Is the person heartless? Did he (or she) not think that (the sons) mother is in the house? That there are children in here? We could’ve burnt out!” exclaimed the woman.
Police spokesperson Mihlali Majikela confirmed that a case of arson is being investigated.
“Police members attended a complaint of a fire at a residence (in Alberton Street, Portlands, Mitchells Plain). No persons were reported to be injured and at this stage of the investigation, no arrests have been made,” said Majikela in a statement.
Despite the uncertainty of how she would afford the extensive repairs to her home, the pensioner remained grateful that no one was seriously injured.
“Whatever it is, Allah won’t place too heavy a burden for us to carry. Maybe it is something that should’ve happened so he (the son) can open his eyes and realize he shouldn’t cling to dunya (earth/worldly possessions). Nothing belongs to us,” said Cariem, smiling gently.
Although her eyes seemed to offer thousands of possibilities, when questioned what she required, all she could muster was: “I don’t even know where to begin. Anything. I will appreciate anything.”
Apart from infrastructural repairs, the houses electrical circuits were also damaged. Food and other household essentials are also welcome.
Anyone with information regarding the incident is kindly requested to contact the investigating officer, Detective Constable Dyamani of Mitchells Plain police at 021 370 1782 or alternatively Crime Stop at 08600 10111.
If you would like to assist the family in any way you can contact Gadija Cariem on 065 279 3536 or Isgak on 060 852 3814.