Citizen Reporter
Reporter
8 minute read
5 Jul 2017
10:49 am

Update: Mbalula calls for demolition of Cape York building after #JHBFire

Citizen Reporter

Johannesburg Emergency Management Services says the number of fatalities has risen to seven.

Picture: Moses Moyo, Twitter.

Police Minister Fikile Mbalula has called for the Cape York building in downtown Johannesburg to be demolished after a fatal fire in the hijacked and rundown building that resulted in multiple casualties.

This comes after seven people died and 50 others were rescued from the rooftop when the City York building on Jeppe and Nugget streets in central Johannesburg, caught alight Wednesday morning.

One person died after jumping out of the burning high rise building, while officials said the rest burnt to death. Residents said they suspected a faulty generator that was leaking petrol might have been the cause of the fire.

The building has no electricity or water availability and any form of sanitation.

Mbalula, who is attending an Interpol Conference in Singapore, said in a statement that he learned of the recent fire at the Johannesburg CBD that cost the lives of seven people as confirmed by the city emergency services.

Mbalula recently visited the Cape York building also dubbed “Mnyamandawo” by its residents. In his walk inside the building, Mbalula expressed that it was not inhabitable.

“There are many buildings in the Johannesburg CBD that are not safe for people to live in. The Cape York building also called “myamandawo “ must be demolished. It is hazard to not only those who live in it but also Johannesburg residents,” Mbalula said in a statement.

“Criminals covert these old unsafe buildings into crime heavens to sell drugs, rape and kill conducting all sorts of illegal activities. At my visit at the Johannesburg Central Police Station I emphasised the need for the South African Police Service (SAPS) working with other law enforcement agencies to work harder in cleaning Johannesburg,”

Mbalula said he planned to work with the City of Johannesburg in making the Johannesburg CBD safe.

He said he plans to meet with the Johannesburg mayor, Herman Mashaba, following his visit to act on plans to demolish this building.

“At my visit to the said building I met with its residents who come from different parts of the country and also our neighbouring countries. Legal and illegal immigrants who come to Johannesburg looking for opportunities make these buildings their homes out of desperation,” Mbalula said.

“This is why we need to work with the city and other relevant departments in addressing this issue. I send my sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the fire. We owe it to them and those who call Johannesburg home and a place of work to get rid of crime in the streets of the city.”

A preliminary investigation into what caused the fire that started this morning in Johannesburg’s inner city, claiming seven lives, will now begin, reports the Northcliff Melville Times.

The City of Johannesburg’s mayor, Herman Mashaba, tweeted that he was at the scene, assessing the damage.

The hijacked Cape York building, Mashaba said, is an all too familiar tragic narrative in the inner city. “[Residents] live in squalor and pay with their [lives].”

Onlookers reported residents trying to escape the fire by tying ropes with sheets. One person jumped to his death.

Nana Radebe, the spokesperson for the City’s public safety department, said a call was received at 9am on Wednesday morning.

“When firefighters got to the scene, the second floor was fully alight and one person jumped to his death.”

Radebe said that after entering the building, rescue workers recovered the bodies of six more deceased. At around 1pm, the fire had been extinguished and the search for more injured residents had ceased.

The fire has sparked conversation on Twitter about hijacked buildings and what is being done about them. Some Twitter users questioned the safety of these buildings and saw the need for them to be renovated.

Mashaba has said hijacked buildings are a major problem in the inner city. “Our people are living in deplorable conditions and being abused by slumlords who extort money from them.

“At Vannin Court, it was found that the occupiers are renting beds in the units from ‘owners’ for amounts ranging from R250 to R1 200 per person.”

Since taking office, the inner city is a special project for Mashaba. He has made oversight visits and consulted with various departments to come up with solutions to counter the decay, faced by the inner city.

The Urban Development Zone tax incentive, which was announced in 2003, is still the City’s foot to stand on when convincing and enticing potential investors to invest in the once-vibrant inner city.

Earlier

The fire at a building in the Johannesburg central business district in which seven people died and 50 others were rescued from the rooftop has been extinguished, and forensic experts were on the scene trying to piece together how the tragedy unfolded.

The City York building on Jeppe and Nugget streets in central Johannesburg, caught alight Wednesday, but before firefighters could put it out, at least seven people were confirmed to have died. One of those was a person who died after jumping out of the burning high rise building, while officials said the rest burnt to death.

City authorities on the scene said the building has been occupied illegally.

The mayor of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba, lamented on twitter that “the tragedy at Cape York in the Inner City is a narrative all too familiar. Residence (sic) live in squalor & pay with their lives”.

Reacting to the tragedy, the Democratic  Alliance (DA) said it “sends heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of the seven residents who tragically died”.

The DA said it wished to express gratitude towards the City of Joburg and the Joburg Emergency Management Services who managed to rescue 50 residents and ensure those affected were treated for smoke inhalation.

“We trust the authorities will investigate and provide closure for the community.”

News24 reports it is unclear from which floor the man jumped, and that the fire has been brought under control. Emergency services were examining the scene to ensure the safety of everyone in the building.

Johannesburg Emergency Management Services tweeted four people had been treated for smoke inhalation and that three more bodies had been recovered during the search and rescue efforts.

It was further reported by City Buzz that Themba Funani, a resident in the Cape York building that had been ravaged by a fire, said the fire started at about 8am.

Funani said the fire was caused after a curtain caught alight while two men were fighting.

Emergency services on the scene of the fire in a Joburg CBD building. Picture: Tracy-Lee Stark

Emergency services on the scene of the fire in a Joburg CBD building. Picture: Tracy-Lee Stark

The comes at a time when the City’s mayor, Herman Mashaba, has lead a series of operations aimed at rejuvenating the city’s hijacked buildings.

According to the Northcliff Melville Times, the City of Johannesburg has started to profile residents who live in hijacked buildings in the inner city before it starts evictions, finding alternative accommodation and eventually, redeveloping the dilapidated structures.

On June 30, the City’s Group Forensic and Investigation Service Unit conducted a crime prevention operation in two well-known hijacked buildings in the inner city, Vannin Court and Florence House.

Executive Mayor Herman Mashaba said 23 undocumented foreign nationals were arrested during the operation and detained at the Hillbrow Police Station. Some stores were also fined for selling expired goods.

In conjunction with the South African Police Service, the department of home affairs, metro police, emergency management services and the city’s health and social development departments, the operation focused on collecting data on the people living in the buildings.

“Before we are able to obtain an eviction order, it is vital that we profile the occupants living in the building and ensure that we are able to find alternative accommodation for them,” said Mashaba.

“Once the City is able to find alternative accommodation, it will be able to close off the buildings to redevelop them into affordable housing.

“Hijacked buildings are a major problem in our inner city, with our people living in deplorable conditions and being abused by slumlords who extort money from them. At Vannin Court, it was found that the occupiers are renting beds in the units from ‘owners’ for amounts ranging from R250 to R1 200 per person.”

Hijacked buildings are indeed one of the biggest issues in the inner city. Row upon row of high-rises have become silent giants in bustling Joburg. Young adults, the elderly and even children peek out of broken windows only to see rows of sleeping bags lined on the pavement below.

City sidewalks have become home to 3 500 people, according to a census done by the department of social development three years ago. This number excludes people who live in hijacked buildings.

“Crime has spiralled out of control in the area, with muggings and violent crime becoming common place. What makes matters worse is the fact that criminals run into these buildings and hide when being pursued by the police.”

The inner city is a special project for Mashaba since taking office. He has made oversight visits and consulted with various departments to come up with solutions to counter the decay the inner city faces.

The Urban Development Zone tax incentive, which was announced in 2003, is still the City’s foot to stand on when convincing and enticing potential investors to invest in the once-vibrant inner city.

Emergency services on the scene of the fire in a Joburg CBD building. Picture: Tracy-Lee Stark

Caxton News Service

For more news your way, follow The Citizen on Facebook and Twitter.