A survivor from the Joburg shelter for abused women and children, who survived the deadly fire on Thursday, says she paid R10,000 once off for her small unit.
Simphiwe Zondo, who has stayed at the shelter for three years, was in her room with her four children when she heard screams of panic from people who alerted them that the Usindiso Shelter building she called home, was on fire.
The City-owned shelter was declared a hijacked building after it was hijacked after being leased to the Gauteng Department of Social Development, which used it is as a shelter for abused women and children.
Zondo, who is in her 40s and is originally from KwaZulu-Natal, was cautious when asked questions around the building being a hijacked building.
Zondo, who did not wish to be photographed, said she paid R10,000 to an unknown man for her small unit and never paid rent thereafter.
"According to what I know, the building was meant to house abused women, children, and teenage girls. But to my surprise, everyone was living there," she told IOL on Friday.
Zondo and some of the other dwellers who lived in the building are now housed at Hofland Recreation Centre in Bez Valley, where they are being provided with food, clothing, and social services.
Other shelters that the Gauteng Department of Social Development has provided are the Ekhaya Shelter in Hillbrow and the Impilo Shelter in Jeppestown.
Some of the other residents of the building, understood to be illegal immigrants, have refused to go to the government-allocated shelters, fearing retribution or deportation.
Zondo also told IOL that many people who lived at the shelter rented out and partitioned their rooms to make extra money.
She explained that she had been urged to do the same, but she could not because she had four children who also did not have accommodation.
Recalling the fiery events of the early hours of Thursday morning, she said the situation quickly got tense around 1am and they decided to grab some of their belongings and run for their lives.
They also saw others trying to evade the fire by jumping out of windows, balconies, and other exit points of the five-storey building to the ground.
"We survived, but I am injured because, on my way out through the stairs, I stepped on the broken glass (shards) and got wounded," Zondo told IOL.
In the early hours of Thursday morning, a fire ripped through the Usindiso Ministries for Women and Children, a five-storey building in the Johannesburg CBD killing, at last count, 74 people.
The Department of Social Development is working with various organisations to assist the homeless and affected people.
The cause of the fire remains unknown.
A non-profit organisation, the Socio-economic Rights Institute (SERI), has been criticised for blocking government interventions around hijacked buildings, but SERI said fingers were being wrongly pointed at it and the incident had to be considered a “wake-up call” for the government.
On Friday, Premier Panyaza Lesufi established a committee of inquiry to look into the matter of hijacked buildings in the Joburg CBD. President Cyril Ramaphosa also visited the scene on Thursday, saying the incident was a wake-up call for government.