South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for the enforcement of laws to prevent the unlawful occupation of buildings in Johannesburg.
His comments come after a fire broke out in a five-storey building that was illegally occupied, resulting in the deaths of over 70 people.
The building, owned by municipal authorities, had been “invaded and hijacked” by unknown groups. The cause of the fire is still unknown.
Ramaphosa stated that the incident serves as a wake-up call for cities and municipalities to pay attention to how people live.
While encouraging people to live in the inner city, he emphasized the need to do so in accordance with the law. Government officials have suggested that some of the fire victims may have been renting from or extorted by criminal gangs involved in the “hijacked buildings” syndicates.
Efforts to evict residents from illegally occupied buildings have often been hindered by court orders.
Many of these buildings have become hubs for drug trafficking and other illegal activities. Fires often break out due to the use of illegal electricity connections, gas burners, and candles.
In the aftermath of the fire, police with sniffer dogs searched through the remains of the building for clues. Most of the victims’ bodies were burned beyond recognition, and DNA samples from relatives will be needed for identification.
Authorities have urged those displaced by the fire to leave and provided buses to take them to a homeless shelter. However, many have chosen to stay in the hope of salvaging their belongings
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has described a deadly fire in Johannesburg as a “wake-up call” for the country.
The fire broke out in a five-storey building that was occupied by homeless people, resulting in the deaths of 74 people, including 12 children, and injuring over 50 others.
The city of Johannesburg has also confirmed that it owned the building but claimed it had been taken over by criminal gangs. They can’t identify the actual reason of the fire yet.
Ramaphosa called for an investigation into the incident and for lessons to be learned to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
He highlighted the need to address the housing situation in the inner city, explaining that the building had been “hijacked” after its lease expired.
Many buildings in the area, including the one that caught fire, are deemed unfit for habitation and are occupied by families who pay rent to criminal gangs. The buildings lack basic amenities such as electricity, running water, and toilets.
South Africa is facing a chronic housing shortage, with an estimated 15,000 people homeless in Johannesburg alone.
Ramaphosa praised the emergency services for their quick response to the fire and efforts to provide accommodation for affected families.