A Minimum of 74 Fatalities, Predominantly Homeless, as Inferno Engulfs Deteriorated South African Building

by Ryan Lee
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Johannesburg Building Fire

In the early hours of Thursday, a devastating fire engulfed a dilapidated apartment building in Johannesburg, mainly inhabited by homeless individuals and squatters, resulting in a minimum of 74 deaths, according to official reports. During the frantic efforts to escape the building, witnesses stated that people resorted to tossing infants from third-floor windows to those waiting below.

Authorities confirmed that at least 12 of the deceased were children, the youngest being just one year old. In a press briefing, city and medical officials disclosed that an unspecified number of individuals remain missing and that many of the recovered bodies were charred beyond recognition.

Over 50 people sustained injuries in the calamity, and six are reported to be in critical condition in medical facilities. Earlier, emergency service officials cautioned that the death toll might escalate as the investigation and search operations continued for over 12 hours after the blaze ignited around 1 a.m.

Firefighters laid dozens of the recovered bodies on a nearby road outside the apartment complex, either in body bags or covered with sheets and blankets, due to a shortage of body bags. These bodies were later transported by the pathology department.

Robert Mulaudzi, a spokesperson for Johannesburg Emergency Services Management, expressed that in his over two decades of service, he had never encountered an incident of such magnitude.

Although the authorities have not officially determined the cause of the fire, Mgcini Tshwaku, a local government representative, indicated initial evidence points to a candle as the ignition source. The building’s inhabitants often relied on candles and open flames for lighting and warmth during the winter months.

Even hours after the fire was put out, firefighters continued to navigate through the remnants of makeshift homes and other informal structures within the ruined five-story building located in Johannesburg’s central business district. Smoke was still emanating from the burnt-out building, and shredded blankets and sheets were seen hanging from broken windows, suggesting desperate escape attempts.

Survivors recounted throwing their children out of windows before jumping themselves. Adam Taiwo, one of the survivors, managed to save his one-year-old son but remained uncertain about the whereabouts of his wife, Joyce.

Eyewitness accounts varied, with some stating that over 200 people lived in the building, including the basement meant for parking. Johannesburg Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda stated that 141 families were impacted by this tragedy, adding a layer of complexity in identifying victims, as many were foreign nationals and possibly undocumented.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called the incident a “wake-up call” for the nation to address the ongoing housing crisis in its economic hub. He offered the assistance of the national disaster management agency and later visited the site, canceling a televised address related to a recent economic summit.

Despite its status as Africa’s wealthiest city, Johannesburg has a long-standing issue with dilapidated buildings providing makeshift homes for the desperate. City authorities often struggle with legal limitations when trying to evict squatters from such hazardous premises.

The building in focus was a city-owned heritage site that was unmanaged and had a historical significance relating to apartheid. It now stands as a contemporary symbol of the social and economic exclusions facing Johannesburg’s impoverished citizens.

Lt. Gen. Elias Mawela, the police commissioner of Gauteng province, urged city officials to take decisive action on the roughly 700 similarly deteriorated buildings in central Johannesburg.

As search and rescue efforts continue, the likelihood of finding any more survivors appears bleak, according to Mulaudzi, who said the fire was contained in three hours but that subsequent operations were hindered by numerous obstacles within the building.


Reporting from Cape Town, South Africa, was contributed by Imray. Additional reporting was provided by AP writer Cara Anna in Nairobi, Kenya.


For more AP Africa news, visit https://bigbignews.net/africa

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Johannesburg Building Fire

What happened in the Johannesburg building fire?

A devastating fire broke out in a dilapidated building in Johannesburg, primarily inhabited by homeless people and squatters. The fire resulted in at least 74 confirmed deaths, including 12 children, and over 50 injuries. The incident occurred in the early hours of Thursday.

Where did the incident take place?

The fire occurred in a rundown apartment building located in the central business district of Johannesburg, South Africa.

What is the suspected cause of the fire?

Although the investigation is still underway, initial evidence suggested that the fire might have started due to a candle. Inhabitants of the building reportedly used candles and open flames for lighting and warmth.

How many people were affected by the incident?

According to official reports, a minimum of 74 people died and over 50 were injured. An unspecified number of individuals are still missing. The Johannesburg Mayor stated that 141 families were affected by the tragedy.

Were there any emergency response measures?

Yes, firefighters and emergency services were dispatched to the scene. The fire was contained in approximately three hours, but subsequent search and rescue operations were complicated by the building’s condition and obstructions.

What did the South African President say about the incident?

President Cyril Ramaphosa called the fire a “wake-up call” for the nation to address its ongoing housing crisis. He offered the assistance of the national disaster management agency and visited the site later.

What are the conditions of the injured?

At least six of the over 50 injured individuals are in critical condition, according to medical officials.

What challenges are faced in identifying the victims?

Many of the deceased were charred beyond recognition. Additionally, the building was populated by a significant number of foreign nationals, some of whom may be undocumented, making identification more complicated.

What is the historical significance of the building?

The building is a city-owned heritage site that was once the location of South Africa’s notorious “pass” office, controlling the movement of Black people under the apartheid regime.

Are there any future preventive measures discussed?

The Gauteng province’s police commissioner urged city authorities to take action regarding the approximately 700 deteriorated buildings in central Johannesburg. The police commissioner specifically called for barring squatters from the burned building in the future.

More about Johannesburg Building Fire

  • Johannesburg Fire Department Official Report
  • South African National Disaster Management Agency
  • Statement by President Cyril Ramaphosa
  • Johannesburg Mayor’s Office Update on the Tragedy
  • Gauteng Province Police Commissioner Press Release
  • South Africa’s Historical “Pass” Office Information
  • Johannesburg Central Business District Housing Crisis Data
  • Emergency Services Management in South Africa
  • National Statistics on Homelessness in South Africa
  • Report on Building Safety and Regulations in Johannesburg

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