Spotlight on inner city housing challenge in fire aftermath

The fatal Usindiso Building fire in Johannesburg last week has highlighted the need to resolve South Africa’s inner city housing challenge and root out “rampant criminality” in these areas, says President Cyril Ramaphosa.

At least 74 people perished in the fire, with scores others left injured.

“This tragedy has brought to the fore the need to resolve the challenge of housing in our cities. Even though millions of houses have been built since the advent of democracy, providing decent homes for over 14 million people, the demand for housing continues to grow.

“The movement of large numbers of people into our major centres is fuelling the growth of informal settlements and placing further strain on infrastructure and services,” the President said in his weekly newsletter.

The President said rooting out criminality in accommodation in the inner city is a priority.

“As a starting point, municipal authorities across the country dealing with inner city decay need to redouble their efforts to revitalise these areas, use regulatory and legislative provisions to safeguard human life, and hold landlords, whose premises have become headquarters of criminal activity, accountable.

“We have heard about progress in some areas. It was reported that last year, for example, the City of Johannesburg managed to return some 47 ‘hijacked’ buildings to their lawful owners. Once rehabilitated, these buildings could provide safe and decent low-cost housing for the poor,” President Ramaphosa said.

The President emphasised that similar to most South Africans, people living in buildings like the Usindiso Building, want a decent quality of life.

“They want a safe place to live close to work opportunities and services. We need clean, safe, liveable and vibrant inner cities that attract people to live, work or study. We want our inner cities to attract businesses and investment.

“We cannot allow certain parts of our cities to suffer chronic neglect and become ‘no-go areas’ because of rampant criminal activity.

“We have to obey the law and observe regulations that exist for our safety and for the safety of others. We need to work with officials seeking to strike a balance between the rights of tenants and regard for their safety and wellbeing. Above all, we need to report acts of criminality and not be party to them,” he said.

In the aftermath of the fire, tensions between the local authorities and civil society were raised.

The President called on all parties to work together.

“We have a shared responsibility, as government, business and civil society, to do everything we can to provide support and protection. Let us work with, and not against, each other.

“Let this tragedy compel us to work much harder to give effect to the human dignity that is the right of us all,” President Ramaphosa said.

Source: South African Government News Agency