Johannesburg fire survivors to be housed in city buildings

Survivors of a fire that engulfed a Johannesburg building in the early hours of the morning, are to be placed in alternative accommodation in nearby buildings.

The fire has claimed 73 lives with several others injured; while at least some 141 families have been displaced.

At the scene of the tragedy in inner city Johannesburg, Gauteng MEC for Human Settlements, Lebogang Maile, said humanitarian relief is already on site.

“There will be social relief. We have already identified three buildings that the surviving victims will be allocated to and we have agreed that we are not going to deal with people on the basis of their nationality. At this point, anybody who’s affected, we are going to give humanitarian assistance. This is a tragedy that affects people, irrespective of their nationality.

“We must convey our condolences to the families who have lost their loved ones. This is a tragedy of monumental proportions and it is unfortunate that today we are here. This, for us, demonstrates a chronic problem of housing in our province as we have previously said, there’s at least 1.2 million people who need housing,” Maile said.

The MEC slammed what he called a “cartel” of people hijacking buildings in the inner city with no running water and limited services.

He added, however, that “if there is an official of the city found to have neglected their responsibilities…heads will definitely roll”.

“There are cartels who prey on poor vulnerable people. Some of these buildings, if not most of them, are actually in the hands of cartels who collect rental from our people. Some of these people who are in these buildings can afford to pay, therefore government must create stock for rental…that is affordable.

“There’s about 23 buildings that the Johannesburg Housing Company owns that are like [that building] that they have a plan but they don’t have money for. There’s a 100 buildings that are owned by the private sector and they are neglected. We have to be decisive in how we deal with that and one of the things might be to expropriate those buildings so that we can be able to house people,” he said.

Johannesburg mayor, Kabelo Gwamanda, confirmed that the building belongs to the city but was overrun by illegal occupation.

“The building does belong to the city. It was…leased to an NGO to run a non-profit organisation to house women that needed to be given relief of some sort. That’s when things escalated out of control. When the city leases a building, whoever is taking responsibility needs to make sure that the building is well kept that they can return it to the city in the condition in which they found it in.

“But I cannot project and predict how the business would then find itself in a situation where it’s abandoning its operation,” he said.

Responding to questions on what the city is doing to address the issue of hijacked buildings, the mayor said the city is taking a cautious approach in order to avoid being litigated against.

“There are quite a number of non-profit organisations that have a keen interest in the city’s approach towards evicting buildings. So…we are taking a more prudent approach and we are not going there with brute force. We are trying to apply a maximum sensitive strategy.

“The MEC as well as the Minister [of Human Settlements], we had a conversation alluding to the fact that…[there are] quite a number of buildings that we can…activate in terms of providing alternative and social housing. The issue of…implementing the strategy of providing alternative accommodation so that we can repurpose these buildings for social housing is what we are particularly dealing with,” Gwamanda said. –

Source: South African Government News Agency

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