Jhb fire: Survivors housed in nearby buildings


Survivors of a fire that broke out in a building in Johannesburg on Thursday morning will be housed in alternative accommodation in nearby buildings.

At least 73 people were killed and several others injured. At least 141 families were left homeless.

Lebogang Maile, MEC for human settlements, says humanitarian relief has already been deployed.

“There will be social relief. We have already identified three buildings where the surviving victims can stay. We agreed that we would not deal with people based on their citizenship. At this stage we will provide humanitarian assistance to anyone affected by the tragedy.”

Maile expressed his condolences to the families who lost loved ones.

“This tragedy points to the chronic problem with housing in our province. At least 1.2 million people in our province need housing.”

The MEC condemned the “cartel” of people who hijack buildings without running water and with limited services in the city centre. However, he added that “heads will certainly roll” if any officer of the city council is found to have failed in their duty.

“There are cartels that harass vulnerable people. Some of these buildings, if not most of them, are in the hands of cartels who collect rent from our people. Some of these people can afford to pay rent and the government should therefore make affordable housing available.”

Maile says there are about 23 buildings belonging to the Johannesburg housing company that are similar to this building. “They have a plan, but they don’t have money for it. There are 100 buildings that belong to the private sector and are neglected. We have to act decisively and one of the things we can do is to possibly expropriate these buildings so that we can provide housing.”

Kabelo Gwamanda, mayor of Johannesburg, confirmed that the building belongs to the city council, but is illegally occupied.

“The building belongs to the city. It has been leased to a non-governmental organization to operate a non-profit organization to provide housing to women in need of relief. That’s when things got out of control. When the city rents out a building, the responsible persons must make sure that the building is kept in good condition so that it can be returned to the city in the same condition that they received it.”

Gwamanda says, however, that he cannot predict whether a company will find itself in a situation where it has to give up its operations.

When asked about what the city council will do to address the issue of hijacked buildings, Gwamanda said the city is taking a cautious approach to make sure it is not dragged to court.

“There are a number of non-profit organizations that closely monitor the city’s approach to buildings. So we have to make sure we act carefully and that we don’t forcefully enter the building. We must follow a strategy of maximum sensitivity.”