In a devastating incident, downtown Johannesburg witnessed a massive fire in a hijacked building, resulting in the tragic loss of over 70 lives on Thursday morning. Among the deceased was a toddler.
City’s Struggle with Hijacked Buildings
City of Joburg’s Council Speaker, Colleen Makhubele, visited the site post the incident. She highlighted the ongoing challenges the city faces with hijacked buildings in central Johannesburg. These buildings, illegally occupied, have become a significant concern for the city’s administration.
“I am sure you saw at some point MMC Kenny Kunene (as acting Joburg mayor that time) was dealing with the issue. He got a lot of backlash and he was taken to court for dealing with the unsafe, hijacked city that is non-compliant,” Makhubele expressed to the media.
She further commented on the role of certain NGOs, suggesting that they sometimes hinder the city’s efforts to address the issue.
“That is what I am saying, there are some NGOs that are hellbent on preventing the city from dealing with this. It needs decisive action and there will be casualties, but let there be no death,” she remarked.
Makhubele also touched upon the challenges faced by the city when legal actions are taken against them, which sometimes prevent them from taking necessary measures.
“If we succumb to pressure because we are taken to court, there are court orders, we cannot move etc, then something like this happens.”
In the wake of this tragedy, Makhubele assured that the city would extend its support to the affected families, including assistance with burial costs.
EMS Faces Harrowing Scene
As the death toll continues to rise from the inferno, the City of Johannesburg’s Emergency Management Services (EMS) staff confronted the grim task of retrieving charred bodies from the building.
“It is a sad day indeed in the City of Johannesburg,” said Joburg EMS spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi, speaking to broadcaster Newzroom Afrika at the scene.
Mulaudzi, who has served in the emergency service for decades, admitted that he had never witnessed such a distressing scene. He pointed out the challenges faced by the EMS officials due to the building’s internal structure. The five-storey building had numerous partitions, making escape routes difficult for the residents and complicating the rescue operations.
“The building is a hijacked building. It is actually an informal settlement inside a building. So there is a lot of debris which we have to go through to make sure that there is not any other bodies which might still be trapped inside the building,” Mulaudzi explained.
He further elaborated that while the building might appear formal from the outside, the inside tells a different story. The building, densely populated and occupied illegally, had countless partitions resembling shacks.
“From the first floor to the fifth floor, it is an informal area, hence you find the intensity of the fire. There is also the issues of the integrity of the building, it had been abandoned for so long, we have to exercise caution as we do this search and recovery operation,” he added.
This incident follows another tragedy last month where a massive explosion in the Joburg CBD claimed at least one life and injured 41 others.