Joburg fire: Building was ‘bound to end in flames’
Residents say the building was bound to catch fire because of the conditions they were living in. The place was overcrowded and had no power.
Joburg mayor Kabelo Gwamanda, centre, at a media briefing outside the gutted Express building in the city yesterday. City manager Floyd Brink is on the right. Picture: Nigel Sibanda
A resident of a building that was set akablight in an apparent lover’s tiff on Sunday has described how the derelict building was always going to catch fire.
Two people died and four were injured when a building at the corner of Commissioner and Nugget streets was engulfed in flames on Sunday morning.
A woman, accused of starting the fire due to a domestic dispute, is expected to appear in court soon.
A resident, Petrous Chuma, said yesterday the building was bound to end up in flames because of the conditions they were living in.
“I have been living in this building since 2008 and the infrastructure wasn’t good. We don’t even know who owns this building, the last time we had a landlord was in 2008,” he said.
Chuma shared his frustrations on how the building wasn’t safe any more. He said the “building was full of people who sell drugs, they also don’t have electricity and toilets. We use buckets to relieve ourselves.”
Another resident, Zandile Mkhize, said they paid R1 500 rent a month and each floor had about 19 rooms.
She described the building as a “hall that was divided by boxes and each person occupied a room”.
“There was no privacy in that building and it wasn’t safe. We used to get mugged. You could hear what your neighbour was saying. I have lost everything, including my ID card and clothes in the fire,” said Mkhize.
She was woken up by screams from people fleeing the scene. She said the smell of gas and paraffin was their everyday life.
Tagesse Abebe, a shop owner opposite the building, said his business wasn’t safe in the area and he had to hire security to stand by the door as “people from the building would come and steal from me”.
City of Joburg mayor Kabelo Gwamanda said 109 households were affected as a result of the fire.
During his visit to the scene, Gwamanda said the affected residents “have been taken to Gazini sports ground where the city has provided 22 tents, about 10 ablution facilities as well as water tanks to ensure the environment is conducive for the victims to be accommodated there”.
He said some of the victims are not South African citizens and the officials were in collaboration with their embassies. “We have been alerted to the fact that we have 28 Lesotho foreign nationals, four Tanzanians, and two who come from Zimbabwe,” he said.
“We would first like to work with the embassies to establish the identities of these people and what assistance they can render.”
City manager Floyd Brink said out of 109 active hijacked building cases being investigated, Joburg had won nine of those cases and two were still pending.
“They have done specific audits and are continuing with the audit of hijacked buildings in the inner city,” said Brink.
He added they were working with the Lesotho embassy and the department of home affairs because there is a possibility that some people were undocumented.
“Once it is found by home affairs that there are people who are undocumented, then that part of the process by home affairs officials will unfold to ensure that they deal with these people accordingly,” he said.
Brink said they were working with other spheres of national government that will be able to provide funding, which will allow them to look at the inner-city rejuvenation programme.
He added they have a structural engineer’s report which indicated the building is not structurally safe and therefore the building will be condemned and will not be accessed.