It was a Saturday night at Mayibuye, a little township just outside of Midrand. The streets weren’t as busy as usual. It was mid-June and it was cold, the temperature below eight degrees. Most people were indoors trying to keep warm. I was watching a game of soccer with family and friends then all of a sudden there was a loud bang.


It came from Sis Phumla’s house.

We thought it was a gunshot because they are common where we live, but it wasn’t. We then saw Phumla coming out of her yard, running for her life screaming in terror.

“Sizani! Umlilo! Umlilo!”

Her electric panel exploded and caused a huge fire in her house. Neighbours wasted no time and came out with buckets of water, trying to put out the fire before it could spread. It was just a commotion with people shouting: “Lethani amanzi! Omunye akangene ngaphakathi athathe nomayini ethathekayo!”

No one went inside the burning house to try and save any of sis Phumla’s belongings. It was too risky and the fire was feeding off her furniture and getting bigger and bigger. While that commotion was going on, one brave man went in the house. It was an Ethiopian Paul, who owned one of the stores just across the street. He had a wet blanket over his head and went inside. The smoke was too thick, we didn’t even see where he went.

A minute or so passed and Paul was still inside the house. We shouted his name.

“Paul! Paul!? Where are you? Get out, PAUL!”

We heard him coughing and then he appeared and collapsed near the door. He was carrying two bags with him and was slightly burnt. We managed to drag him to safety as the fire spread rapidly, also burning a salon and two shacks in the yard.

The firefighters came late, as expected, and they put out the fire that was left. As for Paul, what he did was really unnecessary because sis Phumla was out there and safe, but Paul still went in and retrieved some her belongings. She was grateful for that. One of the bags retrieved had pictures of sis Phumla’s late daughter. She was so happy that they were saved from the fire because she holds them close to her heart as the only reminder of her daughter.

The next day she went inside the house. She broke down when she saw the remains of her house. A house that was once so vibrant, alive and full of memories was now an empty shell. She worked hard to rebuild her home and friends and family helped her to out. Just when you thought the storm was over for her, tragedy struck again. Sis Phumla was involved in a car accident. Luckily she didn’t die but the accident left her crippled.

Her plans to rebuild her home were destroyed. She didn’t earn any income sitting on a wheelchair. But there’s always light at the end of the tunnel because her old friend Paul came through for her again. He wanted to build another shop in her yard and pay her rent. Of course0 she agreed to rent to Paul. And two years later she lives in a beautiful house, walking with her two legs, working again. She shares her living space with the man that came through for her at her lowest.