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Tragic Fire in Johannesburg Leaps Inner City Housing Crisis to Forefront

Published September 21, 2023
9 months ago

A devastating fire that broke out on Thursday, taking over 70 lives, has dramatically highlighted the housing crisis in Johannesburg's inner city. The burnt-out building from where occupants used blankets and sheets as escape routes was meant to serve as a sanctuary for abused women and children. Instead, due to an unpredictable chain of events, it housed more than 200 people.

"This building was originally leased to an NGO catering to displaced women, aiming towards rehabilitating society," Johannesburg mayor, Kabelo Gwamanda, told us. Unfortunate circumstances, he said, led to the building being repurposed.

The late 1990s marked an era where numerous structures in the city’s commercial district were abandoned and, according to local authorities, fell into the hands of organised criminal groups.

Lebogang Maile, the provincial government executive responsible for human settlements, condemned the cartels who exploit the disadvantaged people seeking shelter. "Many, if not most of these buildings, are under the influence of these cartels, who illegally collect rent from occupants," Maile shared.

The city previously raided this very building in 2019, leading to a suspect being charged for illicit rent collection. The case is currently under police investigation. City officials claim that interference from non-governmental organisations hamper the process of dealing with these hijacked buildings.

City Manager Floyd Brink assured the public of the council's awareness of the lawlessness in these buildings. “We have plans to cope with the situation and improve the living conditions,” added Brink.

The incident, roundly condemned by NGOs and political parties, led President Cyril Ramaphosa to label it a “wake-up call”. He stressed the government’s need to urgently address the inner-city housing crisis after his visit to the site on Thursday evening.

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