Joburg CBD Fire: There are over 50 hijacked buildings in inner city

President Cyril Ramaphosa visited Usindiso shelter for Women and Children, the building that was gutted by fire and left at least over 70 people dead and more than 43 injured. Picture: Itumeleng English African News Agency (ANA)

President Cyril Ramaphosa visited Usindiso shelter for Women and Children, the building that was gutted by fire and left at least over 70 people dead and more than 43 injured. Picture: Itumeleng English African News Agency (ANA)

Published Aug 31, 2023


It is believed that criminal syndicates have hijacked at least 50 state-owned buildings in the Johannesburg CBD.

Angela Rivers, the chairperson of the Joburg Property Owners and Managers Association, has told news broadcaster eNCA that there were at least 57 hijacked buildings in the Joburg Inner City.

Over 200 families were displaced when the Usindiso Building in Marshalltown caught fire around 1am on Thursday morning. At least 74 people have died, and the cause of the fire is unknown at this stage.

The City of Joburg-owned building was leased to the Department of Social Development, who used it as a shelter for abused woman and children. The building was hijacked around 2019, according to the city.

Rivers said most of the buildings targeted by criminal syndicates were city-owned or state-owned buildings.

Rivers blamed "incompetent and arrogant" city officials who were to blame for the scourge.

She said the lazy officials were hard to fire, were highly unionised, did not do their jobs, and took salaries every month despite not performing.

Rivers also said the Prevention of Illegal Evictions Act (PIE), prevented the evictions even in condemned buildings.

"You cannot remove them without alternative accommodation; you cannot throw them out on the streets," she said.

Rivers said the City of Joburg also had a Problem Properties Bylaw, which gave the Council the power to evict people living in condemned buildings.

She said the bylaw allowed officials to go into the buildings to perform site inspections on things such as fire, water, and electricity.

"The Problem Properties Bylaw gives the Council power to evict. If a building is dangerous to inhabit, it is the council's right to evict, but they have to seek alternative accommodation," she said.

Rivers said possible amendments to the PIE Act may be necessary, as the act says it is the State’s responsibility to provide alternative accommodation. She said possible amendments could include allowing the private sector to provide alternative accommodation, not only the State.

Meanwhile, Human Settlements Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi told news broadcasters that some of the survivors were refusing to be moved to shelters.

Three earmarked shelters were the Hofland Recreation Centre in Bez Valley, the Ekhaya Shelter in Hillbrow, and the Impilo Shelter in Jeppestown.

Kubayi said they would investigate what the issues were with the surviving occupants of the Usindiso Building in Marshalltown.

She also said she did not believe all of the occupants qualified to be residing on the property.

It is believed that most were reluctant to go to the shelters as they were illegal immigrants, and government was likely to get them through Home Affairs once they got there.

Earlier, Presidency Minister Ntshaveni said most of the people who lived in hijacked buildings were illegal immigrants and said the intervention of the national government was through Human Settlements and Home Affairs, who would confirm the status of those at the centres.

Joburg City Manager Floyd Brink said earlier that no one would be allowed in the building pending an assessment by structural engineers.

The structural engineers were expected to arrive on Friday morning.

Gauteng Co-operative Governance MEC Mzi Khumalo said there was a need to strengthen intergovernmental relations between the three spheres of government, the police, and all affected stakeholders.

He told eNCA that government had to ensure that bylaws were implemented.

He said the political turbulence of coalition governments was also not helping, as often the coalition governments were not based on principle or governance but were driven and motivated by political interests and positions.

He also said there was too much tolerance for lawlessness, saying that despite the political turbulence, officials hired to deal with problem buildings had to do their jobs.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said the incident was a wake up call for government.