Johannesburg - Six years ago, Naeem Deedat calmly told a group of reporters and photographers of the fire that claimed the life of his wife Suraya and their four young children.
The fire had started in the early hours of the morning on July 13, 2011 - a blaze that swallowed up the family’s Ormonde home in Joburg.
At the time, the very recently widowed father appeared to be in shock, watching as representatives from Joburg Emergency Services promised that the cause of the blaze would be uncovered.
But now, more than half a decade later, an inquest has been launched to determine if Deedat could be responsible for starting the fire that killed his entire immediate family.
In 2011, Deedat said he theorised one of his children’s pillows had fallen on to an electric heater during the night, catching alight. The fire seemed to spread quickly through the children's bedroom, and Deedat claimed he had woken up to the sound of Suraya’s screams.
He said he had immediately started running between the bedroom and bathroom with water to douse the fire, but the flames would not diminish.
However, it remained unexplained why Suraya and the four children - Uzair, aged four, Fatima Zahraa, aged three, Laiqua, aged one, and six-month-old Zubair - had not tried to leave the burning room.
Deedat was rescued after shouting for help from his bathroom window when neighbour Ashley Jones used an angle grinder to saw through the window’s burglar bars.
But Deedat’s version of events was difficult to believe for his wife’s family.
Suraya Deedat was killed in a fire at her home.
Suraya’s mother, Nasima Ahmed, this week told the Saturday Star that she had spent the past six years searching for the truth.
“The fire had started small. I don't understand why he couldn't have saved even one of the children. No one has been able to give me the answers to my questions. We have a right to the truth,” she said.
Emergency services and police investigators had failed to determine the true cause of the blaze, she said, and after writing to the National Prosecuting Authority, the Public Protector and the Hawks, to no effect, she felt there was nothing more she could do.
But three years ago, she approached forensic consultant Paul O’Sullivan to start a private investigation into the matter.
O’Sullivan said he had managed to track down a witness on the night of the fire, a recycler who had come towards Deedat’s home to pick up scrap cardboard.
According to the recycler’s written statement, he had initially tried to take the cardboard but was told to leave the premises by Deedat. It was hours later that the recycler, who had remained nearby, noticed the fire inside the home.
As the fire became more visible, the recycler spotted Deedat outside again. The recycler allegedly asked if he could do something to help, and the father had told him to mind his own business.
O’Sullivan also said his own initial investigation suggested a freezer had been blocking the back door, which he believed could have prevented Suraya and the children from exiting the home.
The new evidence forms part of the new inquest docket, which was disclosed to Deedat’s lawyer, Imraan Suliman, when Deedat was summonsed to the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court on Monday.
State advocate Nazley January told the court the State intended to call eight witnesses, including O’Sullivan, a fire expert and officers who attended the fire scene.
After accepting the witness list, magistrate Mahomed Khan was at pains to explain to those in attendance that this was not a criminal trial, merely an inquiry that could have numerous outcomes.
He said even if the court ruled that Deedat had some level of criminal liability, it would be up to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide if he should be charged.
The inquest was set down for the hearing of evidence in November.
Regardless of the outcome of the inquest, Ahmed hopes its conclusion will give her family some form of closure.
“There is not a single day that goes by where we don’t think about (Suraya and the children). We just want to know if we should still keep asking these questions,” she said.
Deedat was approached for comment through his lawyer, but by the time of publication Suliman had not yet responded to the query.