Questions raised about role of tardy inspections after deadly Joburg CBD fire
The fire in Marshalltown was sparked by officials who failed to deal with the escalating problem in inner city
The City of Johannesburg last did an inspection of the CBD building that caught alight, claiming the lives of 74 people, four years ago.
Acting chief of Joburg emergency medical services Rapulane Monageng said the building was inspected in 2019, the year it was hijacked.
“Before that could happen, fire safety would go in with other stakeholders from the city and make sure we tick all the boxes that the building is compliant.
“It was inspected in June 2019. We never went back to inspect the building,” said Monageng.
“We wouldn’t want to go back in there in a hostile environment. There were tussles [with building hijackers] in between and no-one would want to see us come and enforce [the law] in that space.”
The gutted building in Marshalltown, which once housed vulnerable women and children, is among those hijacked in the city, with the metro saying it had tried to evict people but was faced with litigation.
Since the problem became rampant around 2008, mayors have made promises to deal with hijacked buildings.
However, 15 years later authorities have done little to deal with the escalating problem.
The mayors include Amos Masondo, Parks Tau, Herman Mashaba, Jolidee Matongo, Mpho Moerane, Mpho Phalatse and Thapelo Amad.
On Thursday a fire broke out in the hijacked building in Marshalltown and claimed the lives of 12 children and 62 adults.
Among the deceased were 24 females and 40 males, with 10 people burnt beyond recognition.
City manager Clint Brink said the city had previously leased the building to the provincial department of social development as a shelter for abused women, but it was invaded and hijacked at the conclusion of the lease agreement.
He said in 2019 a police raid resulted in about 140 foreign nationals being arrested for illegally collecting rent from tenants but no update was available from the police.
.@SowetanLIVE Standing outside the burnt building in Marshalltown, former Johannesburg mayor and leader of #ActionSA Herman Mashaba says the unfortunate deaths today was a disaster waiting to happen and that the buildings in the city encourage human trafficking. #JohannesburgFire pic.twitter.com/qleMNOwopm— _Koena_Mashale_ (@Koena_xM) August 31, 2023
The injured were admitted to the Helen Joseph, South Rand, Tembisa, and Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic hospitals.
Brink said 61 people had been treated for injuries, and 16 of those had been discharged.
He said there were efforts to provide families with the relevant social and psychological support through the city’s disaster management and 16 social workers.
In May 2009 Masondo said the city had approved an expanded legal section to deal with hijackings in the inner city and surrounds.
During his state of the city address in 2010, Masondo promised residents he would rid the inner-city of building hijackers and prosecute them by the end of the financial year.
He was mayor between 2001 and 2011, and praised law enforcement after nine building hijackers were arrested.
Building hijackings involve properties being taken from their legitimate owners and landlords and populated with tenants from whom hijackers demand rental money without providing basic services such as water, electricity, refuse removal and sanitation.
In 2012 Tau, who was mayor between 2011 and 2016, said the hijacking of dilapidated buildings, especially in the inner-city must be countered, adding that 1,294 people had been arrested and 57 cases had been to court.
Mashaba, mayor from 2017 to 2019, in his first year in office returned three hijacked buildings to their owners after hijackers had prevented them from accessing the properties in 2016.
He labelled building hijackings as a humanitarian crisis, and said he wanted to rid buildings of hijackers so the buildings could be turned into affordable residential units for South Africans.
He said the city had conducted an audit on 500 buildings and found 134 of them were illegally occupied.
Matongo, who served as mayor between August 2021 and September 18 2021, bemoaned the slow pace in resolving the scourge of hijacked buildings, attributing this to instability within the Joburg Property Company.
He said dealing with hijacked buildings would assist the city in finding solutions to redevelop them for social housing.
In 2021 Moerane said the ANC government had devised the Inner City Regeneration Charter which projected the elimination of dilapidated and hijacked buildings by 2015.
Moerane blamed the failure of the project on the refusal of owners of the affected buildings to rehabilitate them or allow the city to take control of them. He was mayor from October 2021 to November 2021.
Phalatse, who was mayor from November 22 2021 to January 26 2023, said they had begun taking back hijacked buildings, mostly in the CBD, to return them to their owners.
Some buildings had been abandoned by their owners and taken over by criminal syndicates, renting them out without paying rates and taxes. She said if the owners could not be traced, they would convert the buildings into affordable housing, among other things, to bring more people closer to economic opportunities.
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