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27 Oct 2023

Inquiry opened into Johannesburg fire that killed 77 people in August 2023

"When a building has been hijacked it becomes a (ticking) fire time bomb"

On October 26, an inquiry was opened to determine who is responsible for the fire in Johannesburg that killed 77 people on August 31, 2023. 

The spotlight has already been thrown on alleged gangs that seize abandoned buildings in the city's centre and illegally rent them out.

The fire in the five story building on August 31 was the deadliest in living memory in Johannesburg.

 Residents said at the time of the disaster that the building had been taken over by criminal syndicates who charge fees to occupants, exploiting them but also offering more affordable housing to those who might otherwise be left homeless, Reuters reports. 

"When a building has been hijacked it becomes a fire time bomb," Acting Chief of Emergency Management Services for the City of Johannesburg Rapulane Monageng told the inquiry.

At least 1.2 million people in the province are homeless, a provincial official said at the time of the fire.  

Since the end of apartheid in 1994, a housing crisis has been growing in the capital of Johannesburg, located in the Gauteng province of South Africa. 

Criminal syndicates since the 1990s and 2000s have been "hijacking" buildings that were left empty and renting them out illegally, without proper fire protection and often grossly exceeding the maximum allowed occupants for the apartments.  

In some instances, the syndicates have occupied buildings with fraudulent title deeds, said Angela Rivers, general manager at Johannesburg Property Owners and Managers Association.

Rivers said she was aware of 57 known hijacked buildings in the Central Business District alone, mostly owned by the city or the provincial government.

 

By Bobbyshabangu - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=136753666

400 poor people living in the buiding

According to an article on Wikipedia.org, The fire broke out in the early hours of the morning on 31 August 2023, in the Central Business District, at a five-storey abandoned building on the corner of Delvers and Albert Streets that is owned by the city government and was taken over by gangs. It was being illegally occupied by as many as 400 impoverished people— many of them foreign nationals, economic migrants, and asylum seekers - all of whom were being charged rent by the gangs. 

The cause of the fire is not currently known. It spread through the building, trapping many people due to flimsy partitions and gates between makeshift rooms constructed by residents.

Many residents jumped from the windows of the building to escape, some of whom did not survive the jump.  Firefighters found bodies piled up where they had died at a locked gate on the ground floor while trying to exit the burning building. 

 


 

Photo credit: Wikipedia Creative Commons License

Photo by Bobbyshabangu