2023 top stories | Marshalltown fire victims struggle to pick up the pieces

todayDecember 28, 2023 74

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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. 



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. 


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

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