Firefighter’s death torches cover up suspicions
Flora Fadzai Sibanda, Chronicle Reporter
THE suspicious death of a Bulawayo firefighter while on duty at the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) has taken a new twist, with police being roped in and a respected expert not ruling out foul play.
Mr Fanyana Dick Shuluma (58) was two weeks ago found by his colleagues burnt a kilometer away and he succumbed to the burns two days later at Mater Dei Hospital.
It has since emerged that council only reported the matter to the police after his burial last week on Thursday.
His wife has said she suspects foul play as Bulawayo City Council (BCC) has not been answering key questions meant to unravel his mysterious death.
Bulawayo police spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube confirmed yesterday that council only reported the matter this week, days after the firefighter’s burial.
“The death of the firefighter has been reported at Bulawayo Central Police Station. The police from that station are investigating his death,” he said.
Bulawayo chamber secretary, who is also the acting town clerk, Mrs Sikhangele Zhou, said Bulawayo City Council consulted police on Monday and a case was opened.
“After the family said they suspected foul play, we started our own investigations. We decided to engage the police so they can assist us with investigations. We only reported this to police on Monday but the other institutions like Nssa were informed on the day it happened,” she said.
In an interview, retired Bulawayo Chief Fire Officer Mr Richard Peterson said it is impossible for a firefighter of Mr Shuluma’s calibre who served for nearly a quarter of a century to have been burnt by a veld fire to the extent of dying.
He urged council to thoroughly investigate the circumstances leading to the death of Mr Shuluma as many issues have not been explained.
“I knew the late Mr Shuluma. He had been a firefighter for a long time. He dealt with a lot of dangerous fires including gas. For him to be burnt by a veld fire, that is really impossible from my own opinion. I do not see how a veld fire can burn a firefighter.
Even in my old age l could never be burnt by a veld fire,” he said.
Mr Peterson said firefighters work as a team so he does not understand why his colleagues are saying they realised later that he was down.
“It is not allowed for a firefighter to continue working without checking if all members are fine. Besides, how do you lose a member in a veld fire?” asked Mr Peterson.
He said firefighters are supposed to move in pairs and they have codes to notify each other if one of them is down.
Mr Peterson says it raises questions when colleagues say they did not realise that something was amiss and later found Mr Shuluma down a kilometre away.
When asked if he suspects foul play, Mr Peterson said: “I think my comment has answered that.”
Mr Shuluma’s wife Ms Pretty Ncube told Chronicle that police had contacted the family about the death but did not understand why it took that long to report the death to the police.
“It is unfortunate I cannot tell you most of the things which were said but I questioned the council’s delay on reporting the death to the police. They are only starting the investigation now after my husband has been buried,” she said.
In an interview earlier this week, Ms Ncube said she does not understand how her husband could have been burnt by a “grass fire” as he was an expert in firefighting, a job he had done for nearly 25 years.
“My husband has been a firefighter for the past 24 years. He knew how to deal with fires. If it had been a house fire and I was told something fell on him and trapped him then maybe, I would believe it.
“However, to be told he was burnt to a point where he looked like fried meat by a grass fire is really giving me a hard time to believe. I know when the time has come nothing can prevent anyone from leaving.
“However, I am really not satisfied with the way my husband’s death is said to have happened,” she said.
Ms Ncube said the narrative on the circumstances leading to her husband’s death was not clear.
“I am told they went to attend the fire as a team. From what I have always been told by my husband, the team is supposed to cover up for each other so where were colleagues who were supposed to cover for him when he got burnt?
We are, however, being told his team did not realise that he had been burnt and was no longer with them till they had moved for something like a kilometre from where he was burnt.
“How could a team continue working and not realise one of them was down? The team called an ambulance which came and ferried him to Mater Dei Hospital where he was immediately admitted to the Intensive Care.
“All this happened at around 2PM but I was only notified about the incident at around 5PM. My question is why did they take so long to come and tell me about the incident? I have many questions which his bosses are failing to answer,” said Ms Ncube. — @flora_sibanda