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An apartment fire in Johannesburg, South Africa, has not just killed at least 76 people but also revealed the dire housing situation in Johannesburg and the deep social inequality.
This devastating fire, called the most destructive in the history of South Africa was a result of Johannesburg’s Central Business District of Johannesburg and has revealed the terrible conditions that exist in unsafe dwellings ruled by criminal bandits.
The Tragic Incident of Johannesburg’s Deadly Apartment Fire
The fire started on the evening of a Thursday, quickly devouring a five-story building in which around 600 people were believed to be living.
The building was not equipped with adequate escape routes, leaving residents with no option other than to throw their kids out of the windows or leap into the fire to get away.
Social Problems Underlying the Crisis
Although the exact causes of the fire are currently unknown, the incident is a stark reminder of the broader social problems that contribute to an escalating housing problem in Johannesburg.
One of the most prominent issues is the issue that is known as “hijacked” buildings, where criminal organizations are able to take over abandoned buildings that charge those with no choices exorbitant prices for living in squats.
This disturbing situation continues to plague Johannesburg despite being the richest city in South Africa.
In the building that was destroyed, the residents lived in squalid conditions and some lived in the garage below ground.
The majority of those who lived there weren’t South African citizens, potentially making it more difficult to identify victims and the notification of their families.
Lack of Enforcement and Social Struggles
There are laws that have been enacted to protect against illegal building occupations similar to the one that caused the tragedy.
However, enforcement is slack and courts frequently stop expulsions, even when there is evidence of unsafe and illegal occupancy.
The Prevention of Illegal Eviction and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act (PIE) Act, passed in 1998 to amend laws from the apartheid era that made it difficult to evict an individual.
The people who live in Johannesburg’s abandoned buildings are among Johannesburg’s most deprived and have no other than the streets. They live in these structures because of desperation and not decision-making.
Blame and Accountability
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and others have been criticized by city officials over their involvement during the fire.
Residents of the city had requested assistance from fire and police services and visits dating up to 2019 had revealed the poor living conditions.
In spite of reports and prior police intervention, the city did not investigate the municipally owned building.
Root Causes of the Crisis
While the initial blame might be on the city’s officials, however, the housing problem in Johannesburg is the result of larger economic and political challenges.
The city has experienced unstable political conditions because of frequent changes in municipal management.
A high unemployment rate, an affordable housing shortage, and extreme poverty only exacerbate the problem.
South Africa remains one of the nations with the highest inequality partially due to its legacy of colonialism as well as apartheid, which continues to affect the country despite the conclusion of apartheid at the beginning of the 1990s.
A City Divided
Johannesburg represents this inequity Johannesburg is the epitomize of this inequality, with substandard and dangerous housing being found in the city’s central areas in contrast to suburbs and more trendy zones are awash with luxury houses and amenities.
The housing problem is a history of apartheid, in which Black South Africans were once required to carry “dompass” papers to work in white areas.
They were also required to carry “dompass” papers from the exact structure that was destroyed by fire.
The tragic fire in the apartment building in Johannesburg isn’t an isolated event, but rather an obvious symptom of deep-rooted social issues, which include poverty, inequality, and the instability of housing.
The tragedy is an unforgiving reminder of the need for comprehensive reforms that address these issues to avoid letting more lives be lost in similar catastrophes.
What caused the apartment fire in Johannesburg?
The exact cause of the fire is still under investigation, although initial reports suggest it may have started from a candle. Many residents used candles and fires for lighting and heating due to poor living conditions.
How many people were affected by the fire?
The tragic fire claimed the lives of at least 76 people, including 12 children. Approximately 600 people were estimated to be living in the building at the time of the incident.
Why did people live in such dangerous conditions in the building?
Many of the occupants lived in the building because they had no other viable options. Some of them were not South African citizens, potentially complicating matters for victim identification and family notification.
Who is responsible for the housing crisis in Johannesburg?
While city officials have faced criticism for their role in the fire, the housing crisis in Johannesburg stems from broader political and socioeconomic issues, including unemployment, poverty, and inequality.
What steps are being taken to address the housing crisis and prevent similar incidents?
The tragic fire has underscored the need for comprehensive reforms to address housing instability, poverty, and inequality. Specific actions and reforms may vary but are crucial to prevent similar incidents in the future.