President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on South Africans to delve into their compassionate side and come together to assist, mourn, and help those affected by the devastating fire in the Johannesburg city centre.
Ramaphosa dedicated his weekly newsletter to calling for compassion and action following the tragic building fire that trapped men, women, and children, leaving more than 70 dead last week.
"It does not matter what the nationalities of the inhabitants were. It does not matter if they were or were not documented. What matters is that, as a people of empathy and compassion, we rally around the survivors who have lost everything and who are struggling to come to terms with what has happened to them," he said.
The death toll from the hijacked Usindiso Building has now risen to 77, while more than 30 patients are still being treated in different facilities in Gauteng.
"As emergency services worked at the scene, we heard harrowing accounts of people being forced to jump out of windows, of those who lost all their meagre possessions, and of mothers losing contact with their children as they tried to escape the inferno.
"There are few words that can convey the immensity of this tragedy. Our hearts are heavy. At such a time, we embrace our common humanity," Ramaphosa said.
In the aftermath of this tragedy, Ramaphosa said that serious questions must be asked about how some 200 people were occupying a building that was not built for housing, was unsafe, and had no basic services.
He said serious questions must be asked about why by-laws were not being enforced across vast swathes of certain cities, resulting in them becoming run-down. These areas, he said, were attracting crime, further compounding the problem.
He further said that serious questions must be asked about how the laws and regulations designed to protect tenants from arbitrary eviction have been used by unscrupulous and criminal "slumlords" to prey on society’s most vulnerable.
"Serious questions must be asked about the responsibility of owners and landlords of inner-city buildings in Johannesburg and major cities around the country that have either been abandoned or fallen into ruin. These owners include private property developers and the state itself," he said.
He said there was a need to examine how the country’s policies were being implemented and how they could be improved.
The victims of the Marshalltown fire weren’t only the poorest of the poor. Many were reportedly undocumented migrants who were vulnerable to exploitation.
Ramaphosa said that dealing decisively with illegal immigration was a priority because regularising the immigration status of all those who have the legal right to be in South Africa helped to protect them from exploitation.
"There are complaints about employers who flout the law and hire illegal immigrants so they can pay them less. There are also corrupt individuals in the state working with criminal syndicates to get fraudulent documents for those desperate to remain in the country.
"This tragedy has brought to the fore the need to resolve the challenge of housing in our cities," he said.
As a starting point, Ramaphosa said that municipal authorities across the country dealing with inner-city decay needed to redouble their efforts to revitalise these areas, use regulatory and legislative provisions to safeguard human life, and hold landlords whose premises have become headquarters of criminal activity accountable.
He added that there also needs to be greater cooperation between municipal officials and inner-city property owners and developers.
"We need clean, safe, liveable, and vibrant inner cities that attract people to live, work, or study. We want our inner cities to attract businesses and investment. We cannot allow certain parts of our cities to suffer chronic neglect and become ‘no-go areas’ because of rampant criminal activity.
"As such, let us come together as government and the private sector, as individuals, as communities, and as civil society organisations," Ramaphosa said.