Government cannot plead innocent over Jhb tragedy


ActionSA says it is deeply saddened by the death of more than 70 people in the devastating fire that broke out at a building in Marshalltown, Johannesburg on Thursday morning.

The party says the government should be charged with culpable homicide as the fire could easily have been avoided. Herman Mashaba, president of ActionSA, says the incident was a disaster waiting to happen.

“I have been warning the City of Johannesburg for more than three years about the dangers hijacked buildings pose to those who live in them.

“I tried to reclaim more than 400 of these buildings to provide decent social housing,” says Mashaba.

“But instead of receiving support from the provincial or national government to ensure that no one lives in these dangerous conditions, I have been obstructed at every turn while non-profit organizations have blocked efforts in court to get people out of unsafe to remove living conditions.

“ActionSA believes that after 29 years of democracy it is completely unacceptable that people are forced to live in buildings that are unhygienic and present a clear fire hazard, while they are being blackmailed by mafia-like owners,” says Mashaba.

According to the party, the South African government must take responsibility for the tragedy and urgently intervene to prevent similar incidents from occurring elsewhere.

“ActionSA is committed to tackling the nationwide issue of hijacked buildings and will present solutions to this crisis at our policy conference from 12 to 14 September,” says Mashaba.

“No country can thrive where lawlessness thrives, and ActionSA is committed to returning the rule of law to all our communities. Our people, as we saw today in Marshalltown, simply deserve better.”

The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation expressed its deepest condolences to the victims. Zusipe Batyi, spokesperson for the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, says Johannesburg city officials were quick to place the blame on charities that supposedly profit from the building.

“It would appear that the city rented the building to an NGO, which operated a shelter for women and children. The city clearly never bothered to inspect it since the lease was awarded.

“The city of Johannesburg cannot therefore distance itself from its dereliction of duty,” says Batyi.

“Compliance with city ordinances is non-existent in the city and that this building may not have been subject to any inspection by city officials should come as no surprise.

“We call on the city to disclose which NGO has the lease for that building and to disclose the terms and conditions of the lease to the public.”

Batyi says the late arrival of fire engines is another issue that the city must answer.

“It has been known for some time that the city does not have a fully functional fire service, but we are now seeing the consequences of this.

“Blaming organizations like SERI for this incident is shocking. Civil organizations did not rule on cases before the courts, the judiciary did.”

Batyi believes that if the legislation is flawed, the power to change it does not rest with NGOs.

“The core of this issue is a growing housing crisis for which there is apparently no sustainable plan.

“This crisis, together with a poorly managed and dysfunctional city, has left building owners at the mercy of squatters and other crime syndicates.

“The city of Johannesburg urgently needs a change of political and administrative leadership. It is a city in crisis and requires leadership and management that is up to the task of keeping its residents safe from disasters of this nature,” says Batyi.

Mluleki Ronald Nkosi, chairman of the South African Association for Local Governments (Salga)’s national working group on emergency services and disaster management, called on behalf of the organized local government for collective action and responsibility from all relevant authorities regarding the support of victims’ families and to prevent a repetition of the incident.

“The loss of life is a tremendous tragedy and deplorable.

“Although the cause of the fire must be investigated, we do know that the circumstances that led to this tragedy are rooted in multi-faceted challenges on various fronts.

“The complex issues of rapid urbanization and the need for housing are causing unscrupulous individuals to take advantage of desperate vulnerable people.”

According to Nkosi, it is essential to strengthen the country’s laws and municipal by-laws in relation to tenure security.

“The Prevention of Unlawful Eviction Act, while well intentioned, has unintended risks and bottlenecks.

“Desperate individuals seek refuge in any available space near employment opportunities, making them susceptible to exploitation by unscrupulous people driven by financial, political or other narrow interests.

“Negligent absentee landlords of properties further exacerbate the challenges associated with this high risk,” says Nkosi.

“It is imperative that this progressive piece of legislation be amended to strengthen it and eliminate its unintended adverse effects.”