Location: South Africa

Date Of Injury: March 2010

On March 13, 2010, Thembi and her baby’s father had a disagreement. After a long discussion, they decided it would be best if they parted ways. He left the home that he’d shared with Thembi, and their daughter, Kamo, who was 25-months-old at the time. He returned to the house the following day to collect his things.

On March 14, 2010, it was a Sunday morning, Thembi’s ex-boyfriend arrived at the house. Thembi recalls that everything seemed normal as he started to pack his belongings. Thembi and Kamo were busy in Thembi’s room when, all of a sudden,her ex-boyfriend came into the room. As he entered the room, he closed the door behind him and locked it.

Thembi recalls feeling uneasy, locking the door seemed strange to her. When she saw the can of gasoline in his hand, that was when it dawned on her that something was very wrong.

Thembi recalls was happened next in meticulous detail. Her ex-boyfriend started to douse her in gasoline. She screamed for help while fighting him off. In the frenzy, her eyes searched frantically for her daughter. She knew the next move that her ex would make would be to reach for matches. She remembers the details in split second intervals as she tried to grab the matches away from him with all of the strength that she had left in her. He overpowered her and after setting her alight, Thembi was overcome by fear and an intense concern, not for herself, but for Kamo.

Her ex-boyfriend left the room through the bedroom window and was unharmed.

Thembi was engulfed in a ball of flames. She could not see, she could not breath. Through it all, she tried to search for Kamo. Navigating the bedroom with her hands, she blindly reached for anything that could possibly be her daughter.

By now, the entire room was in flames. Without any other choice, Thembi reached the window and jumped out. She remembers feeling her skin and flesh peeling from her body as she was still engulfed in flames. She screamed for help while running around the house to the front door in hopes of saving her child from the locked bedroom that was burning quickly.

Some neighbours heard her screams and came to Thembi’s aid. One neighbour grabbed her and pushed her into the shower while others broke the door down and, miraculously, were able to get Kamo out of the burning room. Kamo was also engulfed in flames and neighbours rushed her to the shower with Thembi.

Thembi and Kamo were taken to a private hospital in Middleburg. The medical staff at the hospital soon realised that they were not equipped to help the mother and daughter and the two were transferred in separate helicopters to separate hospitals. Thembi was taken to Milpark Hospital and Kamo was taken to a hospital in Garden City.

Thembi suffered burn injuries to more than 80% of her body while Kamo’s burns were more severe.

In mid June, 2010, Thembi woke up for the first time. She desperately wanted to know how her baby girl was doing but she could not speak. She remembers that days and days went by before her siblings and councillor told her that Kamo survived for only three days after their horrible ordeal. After receiving the news that her daughter had perished, Thembi felt her whole world fall apart. She could not scream, cry or talk to anyone.

Speaking of the shock of hearing of Kamo’s passing, Thembi said “I could only see their mouths move as if they were speaking, but no sound came out.” The trauma of finding out about Kamo’s passing was so intense that the doctors had to sedate Thembi again. When she woke again, it was the end of June.

Upon waking, Thembi felt no reason to carry on and she began to refuse to eat. She did not eat for an entire month.

In September, she was transferred to the trauma ICU and was later transferred to the burns ward at Milkpark and from there she was transferred to a rehabilitation facility. Thembi started taking baby steps in learning how to walk and us her hands again. The entire journey was a traumatic and painful experience.

By the end of 2011, Thembi was discharged from the hospital because her medical aid would not pay any further. Thembi still had open wounds that needed special care. By this time, she had no income and attempted to go back to work to ask for her job back, even though she was still hurting emotionally and her external wounds had not healed. Her employer declared her unfit to work, but with the greatest of empathy for her situation, allowed her to come back to work once she was fit to do so.

Her ex-boyfriend was on the run for two months after what he had done. Eventually, he decided to turn himself in to police. He served time in jail, but by the following year, he was a free man.

Following this tragedy, Thembi returned to work in August 2011. She says that the Thembi she was before the attack and the Thembi she is now, having survived the attack, are two completely different!

Burn Survivor, thembi maphanga