Inquest into death of Deedat family in house fire to proceed in December  

The inquest into the death of Suraya Deedat and her four children in a house fire in 2011 will proceed on 7 December 2020 in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court. Adv. Gerrie Nel, Head of AfriForum’s Private Prosecution Unit, is representing the family of Suraya and her children. Naeem, Suraya’s husband, is the only member of the family who survived the fire in which Suraya and her children died. Naeem is the person of interest in this inquest.

The pathologist who completed the post mortem investigation, as well as Suraya’s mother, Nazeema Ahmed, testified on 23 and 25 November respectively. Ahmed’s evidence will be cross examined on 7 December.

The pathologist testified that all five bodies (which included children between the ages of six months and four years) sustained burn wounds of such nature that all of them had sustained serious damage to their organs. The fire was so hot that some of the children’s limbs were completely burned away. According to the pathologist, all five of the victims were alive during the fire, but it can however not be determined whether they were unconscious.

Suraya’s mother testified that Suraya was their family’s only breadwinner and that Naeem was unemployed for most of the duration of the marriage. Suraya, amongst other things, ran a business in which she sold pieces of chicken. According to Ahmed, Suraya asked her shortly before the fire to keep R50 000 cash – which she kept in a nappy bag – for her. Ahmed, however, did not want to keep that much money in her house. Suraya’s family does not know what became of this money, nor the stock of Suraya’s business. Ahmed did however identify the nappy bag on one of the photos of the scene. The nappy bag had not been burned at all. The fire took place in the early morning hours and Naeem visited the house on that same day to, according to Ahmed, salvage items that had not been damaged by the fire, despite the fact that he did not even want to identify the bodies of his wife or children or attend the ceremonial days of mourning. The only possessions that Suraya’s family found of her was a few personal items that someone had left in a black plastic bag on the pavement.

Ahmed also testified that she and her husband regularly saw that Naeem had locked Suraya in their house when he left the house and that Suraya and Naeem did not have a happy marriage. Ahmed further testified that Naeem’s family brought clothes only for him after someone called to inform them of the fire, despite the fact that they could not have known at that time that he was the only survivor. Naeem has also not at any time after the fire made contact with the Ahmed-family or attempted to explain what transpired on the night of the fire.

“AfriForum’s Private Prosecution Unit hopes that the inquest will lead to justice for Suraya’s family. It is important that we get involved in cases like this, because justice must prevail for this family who has been waiting on answers about what happened that night for nine years. We are however of the opinion that there is a prima facie case and that the state ought to institute prosecution,” says Natasha Venter, Advisor to AfriForum’s Private Prosecution Unit.

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