Three young children aged three, five, and 10 were killed in Doornfontein, downtown Joburg, after a wall in an abandoned warehouse building in which they were living collapsed Picture: Robert Mulaudzi/Joburg EMS

Johannesburg - The families living in an abandoned building which partially collapsed in the city centre, killing three children, had been asking for emergency accommodation for eight months, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (Seri) revealed on Tuesday. 

Two other children aged five and six were injured when a wall collapsed on Monday at a building on the corner of Davis and Rockey Streets in Doornforntein. The three deceased were aged three, five and 10.

Nomzamo Zondo, director of litigation at Seri, which represents around 300 shack dwellers at the buildings from number 39 to 41 along Davies Street, admitted the residents were aware that the building was unsafe. 

"Since mid-2017, Seri has been pressing the City of Johannesburg to provide the residents with emergency accommodation, which would have allowed them to move out of the dangerous building to safer accommodation elsewhere," Zondo said in a statement.

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"In July 2017, City officials produced a report for Mayor Herman Mashaba strongly recommending that the residents be provided with alternative accommodation. The City did an audit of the residents in August 2017. Yet, for eight months thereafter, the City has taken no steps to provide the residents with a safe alternative."

Zondo said that the City has a constitutional duty to provide affordable, safe alternative accommodation. She said that the City's plans were to provide 364 new beds in temporary accommodation this year - a tiny fraction of what is required to cater for poor people living in Johannesburg's abandoned buildings. 

"The City must do better. It is not acceptable that there is literally no accommodation available for people, such as the residents, who are living in profoundly unsafe conditions," Zondo said.

Adding that such tragedies could be avoided if the City allocated more resources for basic, safe and decent accommodation to very poor people.

Mayor Mashaba on Monday urged the national department of public works to join forces with the City to identify and restore derelict buildings so that could become habitable again.

He said that about 30 families had been safely removed from the building and the Department of Public Safety's Disaster Management team, adding that there were far too many residents living in derelict and unsafe buildings and the slum-like conditions infringed on their right to dignity.

The housing backlog in Johannesburg stands at 152,000.

African News Agency/ANA