Identification of Victims Begins Following Departure of Emergency Teams from South African Fire Site

by Chloe Baker
South Africa deadly urban fire

Emergency response units have vacated the location of one of South Africa’s most devastating urban fires, paving the way for forensic pathologists to commence the grim duty of identifying a multitude of burnt bodies and severed body parts. These remains have been sent to multiple mortuaries throughout Johannesburg.

The process aims to confirm whether the existing death toll of 74 will increase in the wake of the early-morning fire last Thursday in a neglected city-center apartment building, primarily occupied by the homeless and socially marginalized individuals of one of Africa’s largest metropolises.

Three comprehensive searches of the five-story structure were conducted by emergency teams, who report that all bodies and body parts have been removed, according to Nana Radebe, a spokesperson for Johannesburg Emergency Services. Radebe further noted that the gutted edifice has now been transferred to the jurisdiction of law enforcement and forensic experts for additional examinations.

Some of the victims’ remains were directed to a mortuary in Soweto, a township on Johannesburg’s southwestern periphery, where relatives started to assemble on Friday morning in response to governmental requests for assistance in identifying the deceased.

Motalatale Modiba, a spokesperson for Gauteng’s Health Department, disclosed that 62 of the bodies were in such an advanced state of decay that identification has become challenging. Thembalethu Mpahlaza, the CEO of Gauteng’s Forensic Pathology Services, stated during a press conference on Thursday that they also discovered various unidentified body parts amid the ruins, and his team needs to determine whether these belong to the already accounted victims or others.

As of early Friday, Radebe confirmed that the official death count remains at 74. The task of identification is further complicated by the fact that many victims are believed to be foreign nationals, possibly residing in South Africa without proper documentation, according to city officials. Local media sources, citing building residents, have reported that a minimum of 20 of the deceased were citizens of Malawi.

The fire consumed a municipality-owned building, which had been effectively deserted by authorities and had become a refuge for impoverished individuals seeking shelter in Johannesburg’s dilapidated central business district. Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda stated that around 200 families were believed to have been living in what are colloquially known as “hijacked buildings.”

The tragedy resulted in at least 12 child fatalities and left over 50 individuals injured, with six in critical condition. Eyewitness accounts revealed familial separations amid the chaos and highlighted that some children were left wandering near the scene, unaware of their family members’ fate.

Accountability for the calamity is also drawing public scrutiny. Preliminary reports indicate that the building was filled with makeshift dwellings, overcrowded rooms, and even occupants in basement parking areas. Security gates were reportedly locked, inhibiting escape, and proper fire escape routes were absent. Some victims were said to have perished near a locked gate while attempting to flee, while others died from injuries sustained from jumping out of windows.

Authorities have initiated a criminal investigation into the incident, and South Africa’s Parliament has also called for a comprehensive probe. President Cyril Ramaphosa, who visited the fire scene, attributed the disaster partially to “criminal elements” who had seized control of the building and were leasing spaces to indigent individuals, including both South Africans and foreign migrants.

Hijacked buildings have long been a problematic issue in the heart of Johannesburg, an issue that, as President Ramaphosa emphasized, urgently demands resolution.

Reported by Imray from Cape Town, South Africa.

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

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about South Africa deadly urban fire

What happened in Johannesburg’s deadly urban fire?

Emergency services responded to one of South Africa’s most devastating urban fires in a neglected apartment building in Johannesburg. The fire resulted in at least 74 confirmed deaths, with forensic pathologists tasked with identifying the victims.

Who primarily occupied the building?

The building was mainly occupied by socially marginalized individuals, including the homeless and possibly undocumented foreign nationals, many of whom were from Malawi according to local media reports.

What are the next steps in the investigation?

Forensic pathologists are currently engaged in the grim task of identifying charred bodies and severed body parts. Law enforcement and forensic investigators have taken over the building to conduct further examinations.

How are authorities handling the identification of victims?

Authorities have called upon family members to assist in identifying the deceased. Some of the bodies have been moved to a mortuary in Soweto where relatives began to assemble. A total of 62 bodies are so severely burned that identification is proving to be difficult.

What challenges are investigators facing in identifying the victims?

Many of the deceased are believed to be foreign nationals, possibly residing in South Africa without proper documentation, making identification more complex.

Have there been any reports on the conditions inside the building?

The building was filled with makeshift dwellings and was overcrowded, with multiple families crammed into single rooms. Some residents were even living in the basement parking garage. Security gates were reportedly locked, and proper fire escape routes were absent.

Is there an ongoing criminal investigation?

Yes, law enforcement authorities have opened a criminal case regarding the fire. Additionally, South Africa’s Parliament has called for an investigation into the incident.

What did President Cyril Ramaphosa say about the tragedy?

President Cyril Ramaphosa visited the scene of the fire and partly attributed the disaster to “criminal elements” who had taken over the building and were leasing spaces to indigent individuals, including both South Africans and foreign migrants.

What is known about “hijacked buildings”?

These are buildings that have effectively been abandoned by authorities and have become refuges for impoverished individuals. The phenomenon has been a longstanding issue in Johannesburg’s city center.

What measures are being considered to prevent similar tragedies in the future?

While specific measures have not yet been outlined, President Cyril Ramaphosa emphasized the urgent need to address the problem of “hijacked buildings” and improve building safety and oversight.

More about South Africa deadly urban fire

  • South African Emergency Services Overview
  • Johannesburg Building Safety Regulations
  • Overview of South Africa’s Parliament
  • Statement from President Cyril Ramaphosa on the Fire Tragedy
  • Gauteng Health Department Information
  • South African Fire Safety Guidelines
  • Understanding “Hijacked Buildings” in Johannesburg
  • Latest Updates on the Johannesburg Fire from Local Media
  • Forensic Pathology Services in Gauteng Province
  • South Africa’s Immigration Policies and Issues

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Lisa4Real September 1, 2023 - 2:53 pm

Terrible, just terrible. Authorities should’ve done something about these ‘hijacked buildings’ long ago. Lives might’ve been saved.

DannyQ September 1, 2023 - 8:31 pm

Its tragic, and its gonna get political real fast. President’s already pointing at “criminal elements”. Lets see how that turns out.

Rob_inSA September 1, 2023 - 8:52 pm

Living here in SA, I can tell you, this isn’t an isolated case. Many such buildings are time bombs, just waiting to go off. Government needs to act, and act fast.

Tim_the_Analyst September 1, 2023 - 10:18 pm

The cost in human life is terrible, but also consider the long term impact this will have on Johannesburg’s image and economics. Safety should be a priority, not an afterthought.

Sarah_J September 2, 2023 - 12:38 am

This is heart-wrenching. But also, I can’t help but think about how the system failed these ppl. If the building was known to be “hijacked”, why wasn’t anything done sooner?

JohnSmith76 September 2, 2023 - 1:03 am

Wow, this is devastating. I can’t even imagine what the families are going through. How does a building even get to this state? serious negligence, that’s what it is.

MikeT September 2, 2023 - 1:58 am

Man, reading about the children who died…thats just too much. and where was the oversight? feels like a huge failure on multiple levels.

ElaineC September 2, 2023 - 8:21 am

74 people…and that’s just the confirmed count. This is a nightmare. When will we start putting human lives above bureaucracy and neglect?


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