A thatched rondavel on the flanks of President Jacob Zuma's Nkandla homestead was razed by fire when it was struck by lightning during a severe thunderstorm on Tuesday afternoon.
Zuma's niece Mabuyi Zuma, 43, on Wednesday recounted her terror as she scrambled to save her belongings from her burning rondavel in the KwaNxamalala village.
Mabuyi's father Khanya is Zuma's younger brother, she said.
There was a bucket full of water and I threw the water towards the fire
She said she was alone in the thatched rondavel, situated next to her uncle Michael Zuma's rondavels, when the house was struck by lightning at around 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday.
"There was a bucket full of water and I threw the water towards the fire but unfortunately, the roof was too high."
Mabuyi said when the lightning bolt struck and the house caught fire, she could only get herself to safety.
"Everything was destroyed. I lost everything; I only took my cellphone because it was the closest thing to me."
A tearful Zuma said her daughter, a Grade 5 pupil, went to school without her uniform on.
"I am sad that the house burnt down," she said.
In 2015, following public outrage over the state spending on Zuma's Nkandla homestead, the government explained that the swimming pool was essential as a "firepool" in case there was a fire at Nkandla. The media were given a demonstration of the firepool.
When News24 called Michael Zuma he said he was not aware of the incident.
"I am not home and I have not been informed about the incident," he said.
Ward 14 councillor Bongokwakhe Mbambo confirmed the incident.
It is part of the Zuma family homes around the president's homestead
He said a huge thunderstorm had hit Nkandla.
"[The house]... is part of the Zuma family homes around the president's homestead. It looks exactly like some of the rondavels inside the president's homestead but it is situated outside the homestead [fence]. You pass the homestead to get to it.
"Everything was destroyed, they lost everything but luckily, no one was injured."
He said four other houses were destroyed during the thunderstorm, including one that collapsed and another that was blown away.
King Cetshwayo District Municipality disaster management confirmed receiving a report of a fire at KwaNxamalala.
The department's Sibongile Kunene said: "We received a report that the house caught fire after it was struck by lightning. We have sent someone to assess the damage."
Two neighbours told News24 they saw the house go up in flames.
One of them, who asked to remain anonymous said: "Shame, it was one of the Zuma homes. These [lightning strikes] happen all the time here in Nkandla. Every time there is a thunderstorm and lightning, houses are destroyed."
He said firefighters arrived at the scene but there was nothing they could do as "everything was burnt to the ground".