Little Zaythoon Brandt, 2, whose remains lay sprawled over her baby sister Zaynura after the flames that killed them had been doused, appeared to have been trying to shield her 7-month-old sister.
The two children’s father, Cameron Adams, appeared on Wednesday in the Mitchells Plain Magistrate’s Court on a charge of culpable homicide as the girls had been home alone when the inferno broke out in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Police are still searching for the victims’ mother.
Bereft grandmother Eleanor Adams wept inconsolably in her Flamingo Crescent, Colorado Park, home after the case against her son was postponed until July 11.
She lived in the main house and had a Wendy house erected for Cameron years ago because he stole from her to feed his drug habit.
The burnt out bed on which the remains of sisters Zaythoon and Zaynura Brandt were found. (Tammy Petersen)
Her son was allowed into the home he grew up in but Eleanor never slept at night, she explained, as she had to keep an eye on her son because he took valuables to sell for tik (crystal methamphetamine).
“I prayed for him. I went to drug rehabilitation centres to try and get help for him. And I taught him, through it all, that you don’t break in to steal or rob other people. There is a God that will deal with you if you have sticky fingers.”
The night before the fire, Cameron had managed to steal his mother’s cellphone and she had told him to return it. Eleanor believes he had taken it to a nearby drug house as he told her he needed R30 to get it back.
She said Cameron and his girlfriend had left in the early hours of the morning to go and retrieve the stolen goods, despite Eleanor telling her son not to leave as she was exhausted and didn’t trust herself to stay awake.
The couple had apparently asked a tenant in the house to check on the girls, but the woman had fallen asleep.
“I had still been awake, speaking to my husband, Harold, about their drug habit. I heard the dog bark and a noise outside,” she recalled.
The couple had thought someone may be trying to burgle their house, but when Harold looked through the window, he saw the flames.
“Harold ran out the back door, but the fire was already out of control.”
Her landline was faulty and she banged on a neighbour’s door to phone the fire brigade.
Residents armed with hosepipes tried to extinguish the blaze but the inferno had engulfed the entire structure.
“Cameron returned and I heard him scream: ‘Oh God, my children! I hope they got my children out!’ He took off his clothes, thinking he could rescue them. But he couldn’t.”
The last time she saw the children’s mother, the woman had grabbed Eleanor and told her it was her fault.
She hasn’t seen her since.
Cameron was arrested at the scene.
Cause of fire being probed
“I asked God what was wrong with me? Why didn’t I smell the smoke? But today, as their grandmother, I can say what happened to us is bad, but this is how God speaks to this mother and father to make a change. This is how I see it. I trust Him, through this tragedy,” Eleanor said, weeping inconsolably.
“They used drugs. I am not going to cover up for them. But they loved their children, they were there for them. If they left late at night, they would ask us to look after the girls. But that night… I was just so tired.”
She is heartbroken over the loss of her granddaughters, whom she describes as “little treasures”.
“Zaythoon would have been three in October. She doted over her baby sister – it’s how their parents raised them, with all their faults. The two sisters were always together,” Eleanor said fondly.
“When they were left with me and I was cooking, the two of them would be on the couch. Zaythoon would tell me, ‘Ma, I am watching her’, even though I could see them. She was very protective of Zaynura.”
Being cruel to be kind
Drug abuse is a widespread scourge, Eleanor said, and people always told her to “throw Cameron out”, encouraging her to “be cruel to be kind”.
“That’s not who I am. God gave me this heart. If I had to throw them out of my yard, what would have happened to them? Here I could see them, watch them. I only gave them food and cigarettes, so that they don’t go out and rob people.
“I tried to get both of them into programmes for addicts. But I was told that they had to make that decision for themselves, admit they have a problem and ask for help. That never happened.”
The cause of the fire is being investigated.
Western Cape police spokesperson Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana confirmed that the woman – the children’s mother – was still being sought by Mitchells Plain police.
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