Simon Magagula tried everything in his power to save them, but he was no match for the raging flames.
Instead, he was forced to watch helplessly as their small bodies were burnt to ash.
“I heard the children crying, so I got out of the house and saw a big fire and heard the children yelling ‘Help us!’, but I couldn’t,” the distraught Magagula said, before he was taken away by relatives.
Seven youngsters, who were the children of Magagula’s three daughters, were sleeping in a backyard shack behind Magagula’s house when the fire broke out just after midnight on Monday.
Mduduzi, 4, Nkululeko, 6, Xolani, 8, Busisiwe, 9 and Lillian, 17, Magagula were confirmed dead. One of the bodies was found underneath a chair.
Only 14-year-old Sizwe and 10-year-old Gift managed to escape the towering flames unscathed, with the elder boy pulling the younger one out of the burning shack.
But as the blaze consumed the small room and plumes of smoke billowed into the air, their five relatives, who appear to have been in the section of the shack where the flames were strongest, didn’t make it.
It is suspected the fire was caused by electrical cable running from the main house to the shack. It was apparently connected to the side of the shack where the dead children had been sleeping.
As the family came to grips with what had happened on Monday, the children’s possessions, including clothes and toys, lay scattered on the ground.
A putrid smell still lingered in the air hours after the tragedy.
The mood was sombre at the family home on Monday. A group of women sat inside, weeping. Other relatives were comforted as they grieved outside.
One of them, the sister of Lillian and a cousin to the others, broke down in tears when she arrived at the house, and had to be carried inside.
The family were too distressed to speak to the media, except to say they wanted to know what had caused the fire.
Joburg Emergency Services spokesman Robert Malaudzi said the cause of the fire would be thoroughly investigated.
An electrical fault could have been to blame, he said.
“We suspect that the children used the electrical cable inside the shack to draw electricity from the main house for lights, and this could have caused the fire,” Malaudzi said.
But the children’s uncle, Sipho Magagula, disagreed. He told The Star that the shack, which was solely used as a bedroom for the children, was without any source of electricity.
“There was not even a light bulb or a candle inside the room, and the children were given a cellphone to use as a light.”
He added that all the electricity cables were inside the main house, which was attached to the shack, in which the adults slept.
“The cable was too short to reach the shack from the house,” he said.
The family were struggling to cope with the loss of the youngsters and were traumatised by the fact that they were unable to save them from the fire.
Sipho said that although they had escaped the blaze with minor injuries, they didn’t feel happy to be alive.
Two of the children’s mothers are dead and they were in the care of their aunt Nthabiseng Magagula, whose child also perished in the fire.