Suspicious death leaves immigrant family in poverty

The family of man who died in a mysterious fire say people told them to go back to the Congo

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Photo of a woman
Chantal Meta sells woollen hats at train stations to survive, now that her husband is dead. Photo: Bernard Chiguvare

Arthur Ilunga Wa Ilunga, a refugee from the Congo, burnt to death on 4 September 2016 at his home in Belhar. On that night, his wife, Chantal Meta, was away at a three-day workshop in Wynberg organised by the Deaf Community of Cape Town. But the couple’s 20-year-old daughter, Divine Kaseka, was at home the night her father died.

She described what she remembers. She was sleeping with her four siblings. Her father was in the room next door.

“We were all awakened by a banging sound. All I could do was to peep through the glass door [between the rooms] … I saw my father fighting with two men wearing masks. We all panicked, but our father shouted that we should run.”

The children escaped through the kitchen backdoor.

According to Divine, the building was already on fire. The fire seems to have started in the garage downstairs.  “As we rushed out, I cried for help from neigbours. My father was still fighting with the intruders,” she said.

“Later, he managed to escape, but then he went back in … I think he wanted to get some important documents, but he never returned,” she said.

How the intruders escaped the fire, she does not recollect. “I was so shaken by the incident that I could not notice what was going on,” she said.

Meta says that previously some residents in Belhar had told them to go back to the Congo (DRC). The family of seven fled conflict in the DRC in 2007. She said they were not “loved” in Belhar.

“My husband had some of his friends from DRC who were already in South Africa, so he decided we should follow [in 2007]. We had to stay for three weeks outside Pretoria Home Affairs waiting for asylum papers. We survived on gifts from well-wishers. After obtaining the papers we proceeded to Cape Town,” she said.

Her husband had a code 14 (truck) driver’s licence. They rented the three-bedroomed flat in Belhar for R3,500. The five children attended school.

But after the death of her husband, the family’s life changed completely. They had to move to Delft because they could not longer afford the R3,500 rent. Meta now sells woollen hats, socks and gloves at Maitland train station.

“I am failing completely to meet the demands of the family,” she says. “I had to visit all schools that my children attend to explain my situation. The children are in grades 3, 8, 9 and 11. No one is paying school fees for them.” The nine-year-old is deaf.

Meta says she has been numerous times to the police station, but cannot get information on the case.

A case was opened in September at the Belhar Police Station. Police say it is an inquest and an investigation is ongoing.

Meta believes her husband’s death was no accident. She also thinks nothing will come of the police inquest.

The flat where Arthur Ilunga Wa Ilunga died in a fire. Photo: Bernard Chiguvare

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