Home International News Africa 73 dead in Johannesburg as fire guts migrants’ building

73 dead in Johannesburg as fire guts migrants’ building

The building had been abandoned but was being occupied by homeless people (Courtesy)

More than 70 people have died and more than 50 have been injured after a fire in South Africa’s city of Johannesburg.

Officials say that it is unclear what sparked the blaze at the city center’s five-storey building.

The building had been abandoned but was being occupied by homeless people.

In a news conference, the city of Johannesburg confirmed that it owned the building but said cartels had taken it over.

A spokesman for the emergency services, Robert Mulaudzi, said the firefighters had brought out some of the occupants.

He said the fire had gutted the building, and the search for other victims continued.

Disaster management officers are also in the area to help provide relief for surviving residents.

Mr. Mulaudzi said the scene would be handed over to the South African police service after emergency services had finished searching for victims.

“We are moving floor by floor conducting these body recoveries,” Mr. Mulaudzi told local broadcaster ENCA.

A video posted to the platform X, formerly Twitter, by Mr. Mulaudzi showed fire trucks and ambulances outside the building with burn-out windows.

Photos from the scene showed covered bodies lined up near the burned building.

One woman told the journalists that she was searching for her 24-year-old daughter outside the building.

“As soon as I heard the building was burning down, I knew I had to run here to come and look for her,” she said.

“Now that I’m here, I’m kept in suspense because I don’t know what is happening. I don’t get any direction. I’m very anxious; I don’t know if my daughter is alive.”

The building is located in what was formerly a business district in South Africa’s economic hub. It was formerly used as an informal settlement, said Mulaudzi.

The inner city neighborhood is infamous for “hijacked” buildings. The buildings have been illegally taken over by undocumented migrants, mostly from other African countries.

Mulaudzi said that – since it was not a formal accommodation with a lease – the building was not properly looked after, and makeshift structures and debris had made it hard to search for and rescue people.

Lebogang Maile, the politician responsible for housing in the province, said there was a chronic problem with housing in the area, and 1.2 million people were looking for somewhere to live.

When asked whether his administration would take responsibility for the tragedy, the Mayor of Johannesburg, Kabelo Gwamanda, said the government was dealing with the issue of cartels hijacking buildings, which was taking place across the city.

Many South Africans have turned to social media to condemn the online xenophobic attacks that some have made against the victims and survivors of the fire.

Mary Muthoni/Agencies