In a devastating incident that unfolded overnight, a five-story building in Johannesburg was engulfed in flames, resulting in a death toll of 73 individuals as of Thursday, August 31st. Although the fire has been extinguished, firefighting teams continue to work diligently in the hopes of aiding any potential survivors.
The building, characterized by its brick façade, is municipally owned in Johannesburg and represents a distressing example of what is locally termed a “hijacked building.” These abandoned urban structures have fallen into the hands of unscrupulous landlords who exploit them for financial gain. These landlords, often referred to as “sleep merchants,” exploit vulnerable populations, frequently comprised of individuals from neighboring countries seeking employment opportunities. These individuals, facing financial constraints, find themselves unable to afford lodging in other parts of the city.
During the recent blaze, witnesses reported observing residents resorting to desperate measures, including jumping from upper floors to escape the inferno. Evidence of these attempts remains poignant—a blanket tied to a window, presumably by a resident attempting to flee.
The newly elected Mayor of Johannesburg, assuming office in May, personally visited the scene. Acknowledging the longstanding issue of squatter buildings plaguing various parts of the downtown area, he expressed the complexity of finding swift solutions to this pervasive problem.
As of now, the causes behind this tragic incident remain shrouded in uncertainty, with no definitive scenarios emerging.
The toll is undeniably heavy, with at least 73 lives lost. Their bodies were respectfully laid to rest on the street, shrouded beneath sheets and covers. Additionally, 43 individuals sustained minor injuries, primarily from smoke inhalation, necessitating their transportation to hospitals for treatment and care. The aftermath of this calamity serves as a somber reminder of the dire need for improved safety measures and proactive solutions to prevent further instances of this nature.