AfricaBreaking NewsHuman Interest StoriesInternational News

Johannesburg Fire Inquiry Blames City Officials for 76 Deaths

A damning inquiry into the devastating fire that ripped through a five-story building in Johannesburg’s city centre has placed the blame firmly on city authorities. The blaze, which claimed the lives of 76 people, including 12 children, is considered one of South Africa’s worst disasters.

Retired Judge Sisi Khampepe’s report, released on Sunday, revealed that city officials were aware of the building’s perilous state for at least four years prior to the tragedy. However, they failed to take appropriate action to address the safety concerns.

The fire erupted on the night of August 31st, 2023, trapping residents in an inferno. The desperate fight for survival led some to jump from windows to escape the flames. Tragically, many victims were burned beyond recognition, requiring DNA identification.

Judge Khampepe’s scathing report slammed the City of Johannesburg, the building’s owner, for displaying “utter disregard” for its “disastrous condition.” The inquiry unearthed evidence of hazardous living conditions, including overcrowding and makeshift wooden structures built within corridors, bathrooms, and even the basement.

Emergency responders discovered vital safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers, missing upon arrival. Additionally, the main fire escape was inexplicably locked during the fire. The report detailed the building’s cluttered interior, filled with debris that fuelled the rapid spread of the flames.

Judge Khampepe highlighted a raid conducted in 2019 by city officials, immigration authorities, and police. This raid exposed the appalling living conditions that ultimately led to the tragedy. 

The report recommends disciplinary action against the CEO of the Johannesburg Property Company, responsible for managing city buildings. Furthermore, it suggests demolition of the building with a memorial erected to honour the victims.

The fire has cast a harsh light on the severe urban decay plaguing Johannesburg, South Africa’s economic hub. The inquiry exposed a rampant issue of “hijacked” buildings. These buildings are illegally occupied by landlords who rent out spaces to desperate tenants, often disregarding safety regulations and creating overcrowded, hazardous living environments.

A shocking development unfolded during the inquiry. A man scheduled to testify as a resident confessed to starting the blaze in January. He claimed it was an attempt to dispose of the body of a man he had killed, acting on orders from a drug dealer. He now faces charges of 76 counts of murder and arson.

The inquiry’s findings have sparked outrage in Johannesburg, with calls for accountability amongst city officials. As the investigation continues, there is a growing demand for systemic changes to prevent such tragedies from happening again. The inquiry also highlights the urgent need to address Johannesburg’s broader housing and safety issues.

 Source: Africanews

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *