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Johannesburg fire inquiry to shed light on tragic building incident


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In the aftermath of a devastating fire in Johannesburg that claimed 76 lives, an inquiry has been launched to investigate the circumstances surrounding the tragedy.

Taking place in Africa’s wealthiest city, this incident underscores significant issues of poverty and neglect prevalent in the region.

Details of the Johannesburg fire incident

The unfortunate event transpired in August, with flames engulfing a five-story apartment in Johannesburg’s Marshalltown district.

The inferno trapped many of its occupants, who were living in conditions marked by severe overcrowding.

This building is thought to be one of the “hijacked” structures in Johannesburg.

The suspicion arises from the likelihood of it being commandeered by unauthorised landlords.

These landlords are believed to have been renting spaces to destitute South Africans and migrants in dire need of shelter.

Testimony reveals alarming facts

Johannesburg Emergency Services’ interim head, Rapulane Monageng, testified at the onset of the inquiry.

He revealed a concerning absence of fire extinguishers within the premises: “They had all been taken off the walls,” he stated.

A crucial fire hose was also found missing, with its water source diverted for “domestic use.”

Furthermore, exits meant for emergencies, including the primary fire escape route, were found sealed, offering only one means of egress.

The interior of the structure was noted to be filled with partitions made of plywood and other highly combustible materials.

Residents had occupied areas like stairways, passages, and even restrooms.

Monageng remarked: “It was mind-boggling that (people) even took a bathroom and converted it into a bedroom.”

He further highlighted the peril of the environment, noting that the flammable materials and overcrowded conditions made it a severe fire risk.

He described it as a “ticking time bomb.”

Following the blaze, which occurred in the early hours of August 31, police designated the building a crime scene and initiated a criminal case.

However, despite being one of South Africa’s most fatal urban fires, no formal charges have been brought forth.

Subsequent revelations uncovered that the building was municipally owned.

Yet, the city authorities had essentially relinquished it, showing no involvement in its administration.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the inquiry in early September.

Presided over by a triad, with retired Constitutional Court judge Justice Sisi Khampepe at its helm, its mission is to determine the fire’s origins and ascertain accountability for the 76 fatalities, which encompassed at least 12 minors.

Over 80 individuals sustained injuries, with many enduring fractures after leaping from windows to evade the flames.

Two months post the incident, 33 victims remain unidentified and unclaimed in a Johannesburg mortuary, as reported by a provincial health department spokesperson.

IFSJ Comment

The Johannesburg fire tragedy serves as a poignant reminder of the urgent need for stringent fire safety regulations, especially in densely populated urban areas.

The incident in Johannesburg underscores the challenges faced in many growing urban centres, where rapid urbanisation often outpaces safety measures.

It emphasises the necessity for international standards and collaboration to ensure that tragedies of this magnitude can be prevented in the future.

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