On August 31, South Africans woke up to horrifying news of a fire that ripped through a Marshalltown building, killing more than 70 people and leaving hundreds more displaced.
It’s understood the abandoned five-story residential block, owned by the city, had become a haven for illegal occupants, who mostly did odd jobs or worked as street vendors. Building hijackers were allegedly charging them about R2 000 a month for a room that slept at least four people.
Witnesses of the August tragedy described horrific scenes of mothers throwing their babies from the burning Usindiso building, as they attempted to escape the fire.
Survivors also shared about their ordeal, with some detailing the cuts and other injuries they sustained, as those trapped inside made desperate attempts to flee through building windows.
It’s reported that many of those who were killed were foreign nationals from Malawi, Tanzania, and other African nations.
Since the horrific tragedy, debates over the countries housing crisis have been re-ignited, with some groups calling for authorities to clamp down on illegal building occupiers.
Human Rights groups, including the Johannesburg Fire Response Action Group, have on the other hand, called for collective efforts to support survivors and address the aftermath of the blaze.
Today was a traumatic day for the city of Johannesburg and we must have accountability.— Mmusi Maimane (@MmusiMaimane) August 31, 2023
Too many lives have been lost and too much damage has been done for us to ignore this tragedy. #MarshalltownFire
Let us must come together to help the victims on this difficult day. pic.twitter.com/eBTBFjdCYg
[WATCH] I spoke to the mother of a 24 year old woman who she says she is waiting in hope to find her daughter who lived in this building for over a year now. She tells me her daughter was on drugs and she last saw her in October. She explains why & more …#Marshalltownfire pic.twitter.com/wn6mLFVUIk— Buhle Mbhele 🤍 (@buhlembhele_) August 31, 2023
The sobering aftermath for victims
In recent months the City of Johannesburg has come under fire after it emerged that victims of the deadly blaze were being housed in tin shack settlements, near the industrial area of Denver.
Residents of the housing project have complained of a lack of basic services. They say the shantytown, situated on empty parking grounds, has no electricity and residents are forced to share a single communal tap and toilets.
The city has since come out defending its decision to move victims, saying the housing project was only temporary.
Inquiry into the deadly blaze continues
A Commission of Inquiry into the fire has since been established, as officials work to uncover the cause of the fatal blaze.
The inquiry into the Marshalltown fire is underway. Horrific details of how first responders struggled to rescue residents of the Usindiso building are emerging. The first witness to take the stand at the commission is Joburg EMS acting chief, Rapulane Monageng. #DStv403 #eNCA pic.twitter.com/KckAjF1nwJ— eNCA (@eNCA) October 27, 2023
In the most recent developments, the newly formed Operation Dudula party has petitioned for the removal of the chairperson of the commission, Justice Sisi Khampepe.
The party is angry over Khampepe’s decision to remove advocate Thulani Makhubela from the inquiry, citing fear that he won’t be impartial in handling the matter.
Residents of the building had applied for Makhubela’s recusal, accusing him of habouring ant-foreigner sentiments.
They based their argument on a series of his social media posts, voicing his support for several raids conducted by the controversial civil action group, Operation Dudula.
The Commission of the Inquiry is currently on recess and a new date for its resumption is not yet known.
Written by: Naomi Kobbie