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Albert Street fire – remembering Melita Mhlebi, one of 77 who died

Albert Street fire – remembering Melita Mhlebi, one of 77 who died
Melita Mhlebi (16) died in the 80 Albert Street fire on 31 August 2023. (Photos: Felix Dlangamandla | Supplied | Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

The devastating Marshalltown fire in Johannesburg just more than a month ago has left a profound mark, claiming 77 lives, injuring many and displacing numerous others. In this catastrophic event each victim had a personal tragic story. Here, we remember one of them.

Melita Mhlebi, a 16-year-old resident of the Usindiso building at 80 Albert Street, Marshalltown, lost her life in the tragic fire on 31 August 2023. Born in Johannesburg in 2007, Melita was a high school pupil in Bryanston at the time of her untimely passing.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Most survivors of Johannesburg’s Albert St fire are South Africans, action group reveals, calls for urgent intervention

Melita’s family background is a rich tapestry of artistic heritage. Her mother is a talented singer and DJ, and her father a renowned Mbaqanga and Maskandi singer, also known as a member of the acclaimed music group, Ofeleba. Melita’s lineage is a blend of Xhosa and Zulu, with roots in Queenstown in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Melita is survived by her parents, Busisiwe “Djmiss B” Mhlebi and Khumbulani Kubheka, and two-year-old brother, Owami. 

Kubheka expressed his profound sorrow, lamenting:

“I wished to witness my child’s growth, her journey to university, and pursuit of her dreams. It saddens me deeply that I was denied the opportunity to witness her blossoming, all due to complications stemming from my relationship with her mother. Her tragic loss weighs heavily on my heart. If, indeed, there exists an afterlife where we may meet, I long to embrace her and convey my boundless love. But, for now, I am compelled to accept the harsh reality that she is no longer with us.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Tragedy and miracles unfold: Remembering the many Albert Street fire victims

To honour her memory, Kubheka said he has resolved to commemorate her life in a meaningful way on her birthday.

Albert Street fire

June 2014: Khumbulani Kubheka holds his daughter, Melita Mhlebi, outside the Usindiso building at 80 Albert Street. (Photo: Supplied)

As we remember Melita’s young life, we are reminded of the profound loss experienced by her family, her community and the nation.

With the help of human rights activist Andrew “Andy” Chinnah and a donation by the Helen Suzman Foundation her family managed to finally lay her to rest on 7 October 2023, more than a month after struggling to raise money to transport her remains to the Eastern Cape. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Survivors of Joburg’s Marshalltown fire left in limbo, hungry and desperate, after state’s empty promises

Each of the 77 lives lost in the Marshalltown fire had a unique narrative, dreams and aspirations. As we honour their memories, we must also work together to ensure the safety and well-being of our communities to prevent such tragedies in the future. DM

If you lost a loved one in the fire, and wish to pay tribute, contact [email protected] or [email protected]

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