LIVE BLOG: Joburg CBD Fire death toll hits 76

The Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, said that her department cannot be held accountable for the deaths and injuries caused by the fire at Usindiso for Women and Children. Picture: Kamogelo Moichela.

The Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, said that her department cannot be held accountable for the deaths and injuries caused by the fire at Usindiso for Women and Children. Picture: Kamogelo Moichela.

Published Sep 1, 2023


In the early hours of Thursday morning, a fire ripped through a five storey building in the Johannesburg CBD killing, at last count, 73 people.

Follow IOL’s live coverage of the tragedy.

Joburg Fire death toll hits 76

Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla has confirmed to journalists that the Marshalltown fire death toll has risen to 76.

"We've got 76 fatalities, out of which 74 were reported [dead] yesterday...and then two passed away in hospital," he said on Friday.

He was speaking after visiting some of the injured at Helen Joseph Hospital in Auckland Park.

‘I paid R10,000 for unit’

One of the survivors of the Johannesburg fire, Simphiwe Zondo, has told IOL she paid R10,000 once off for her unit at the hijacked building. She said she never paid rent again at the building she had been staying for about three years with her three children.

“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 said.

Simphiwe Zondo, one of the survivors of the Joburg CBD fire, said she paid R10,000 for her unit at the Usindiso Shelter for abused women and children. She has been staying at the shelter for three years with her four children. Picture: Kamohelo Moichela/IOL

She mentioned that many people had rooms that they rented out to make extra cash but she couldn’t because her children did not have accommodation.

Zondo and some other people who survived and lived in the building are now housed at Hofland Recreation Centre in Bez Valley where they are being provided with care, food, clothing, and social services.


Joburg CBD Fire: The world grieves with South Africa

A cloud of horror and grief has been cast over South Africa, with the world's eyes focusing on Johannesburg, where at the last count, 74 people died in a blaze in a hijacked building in the CBD.

News stations across the world reported on the fire, which reportedly started on the ground floor and ripped its way through the five-storey building, injuring around 50 people, as they leapt to safety or were burnt while trying to escape the inferno.

Johannesburg Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda said the building was initially used as a shelter for women and children, run by a non-profit organisation, but was misused because of unforeseen circumstances.

Journalists from BRICS nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — confirmed that the Johannesburg fire was a big story in the respective regions.

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Hotline set up for families of Joburg CBD fire victims

Families of the victims of the Johannesburg inner-city fire that resulted in the death of more than 70 people, can call a hotline to assist them to trace their missing loved ones, as identification of the deceased bodies at the mortuary begins on Friday.

The toll-free hotline was set-up by the Gauteng Provincial Department to assist those families searching for loved ones who have either been hospitalised or are deceased.

Following the devastating fire that razed a hijacked building in Marshalltown, Johannesburg in the early hours of Thursday morning, mop-up operations have begun.

At least 74 people, including children, died in the blaze, while many more have been hospitalised for injuries sustained in the escape.

Victims were transported to be treated at Gauteng hospitals, including Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, South Rand Hospital, Helen Joseph Hospital, Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital and Tembisa Hospital.

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Government lobbies private sector to help Joburg CBD fire victims

Human Settlements Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi says they have lobbied the private sector to come on board to help with permanent accommodation for families that have been affected by the fire in central Johannesburg.

Kubayi said they have been working with provincial authorities on the matter.

She said after they have given the families shelter for 72 hours they will have to assess whether they individually qualify for alternative accommodation.

It is in this regard they have roped in the private sector to help with permanent houses for the victims of the fire.

This was an ongoing process. The department will have to get to each and very person that has been left stranded after the fire that gutted the building in Albert street, claiming 74 lives, including seven children.

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The Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, said that her department cannot be held accountable for the deaths and injuries caused by the fire at Usindiso for Women and Children.

“The building does not belong to the social development department,” she said.

The building was engulfed by flames in the early hours of Thursday leaving at least over 70 people dead and 43 more injured.

Zulu said their responsibility now was to look after the people who were affected and ensure that the government lent a hand in their recovery. “What is important for the department is to deal with the post-traumatic stress of what has happened to these people,” she said.

However, Zulu shot down claims that the NGO was responsible for the situation given the state of the building. “There’s no NGO worth anything that can keep women and children under such circumstances. I don’t think it was an NGO,” he said.

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi set up committee of inquiry

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi has set up a committee of inquiry to investigate the devastating fire in Johannesburg CBD.

Lesufi said he will work closely with Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola in establishing the committee.

The premier said the province has over the last few years experienced a number of incidents and they wanted to respond quicker to these cases.

He said they were working with all spheres of government to respond to disasters.

“In this regard, I intend to institute a Committee of Inquiry to investigate this deadly inferno, working with the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola. The inquiry will investigate the prevalence of hijacked buildings in the city, who must take responsibility and allow us to get to the real cause of the incident," said Lesufi.

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The decline of the Joburg CBD: From City of Gold to shadow of despair

Johannesburg, once the glittering jewel in the crown of South African cities, has witnessed a heart-wrenching transformation over the past few decades.

The tragic events that unfolded in Marshalltown where - at last count - 74 people died in a fire in a hijacked building in the CBD is a grim reminder of the city's decline.

This incident, coming on the heels of a gas explosion that claimed another life, underscores the urgent need to address the challenges facing the city centre.

Historically, Johannesburg was not dubbed the 'City of Gold' without reason.

Built atop vast gold reserves, it was a beacon of prosperity and opportunity.

Countless people from provinces across the country have sought the opportunities Joburg or ‘Jozi’ and ‘eGoli’ as it has been affectionately called - had offered.

Like Frank Sinatra sang about New York, Joburg, for many, was the place that “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere”.

The Johannesburg CBD was a bustling hub of commerce, culture, and innovation.

However, the golden sheen has been tarnished over the years, and the reasons are manifold.

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Joburg CBD fire survivors turn down accommodation

Three facilities were secured around Johannesburg to accommodate the hundreds of people who survived an inferno which killed more than 70 people at a building in the CBD on Thursday morning.

Ward councillor in the area where Usindiso Building is situated, Mongameli Mnyameni said the some of the survivors, who are foreign nationals, were reluctant to be taken to the shelters.

“Yesterday (Thursday) we managed to get three places for the people who survived, the victims. They were taken to Bez Valley recreation centre, Hillbrow Khaya shelter, and also Impilo shelter in Fairview,” the African National Congress councillor, Mnyameni, said speaking to broadcaster Newzroom Afrika on Friday morning.

“I think there are plus or minus 150 people that were relocated there. They are there, they slept there yesterday, at least they managed to get a shelter over their heads,” he said.

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Joburg CBD fire is a wake-up call: President Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa postponed a television address to the nation on Thursday to visit the scene at Marshalltown in Johannesburg where a fire broke out in a "hijacked" building that at last count, claimed the lives of 74 people.

Ramaphosa was briefed by City of Joburg officials on the situation before touring the ruins of the hijacked building.

Ramaphosa was expected to address the nation on the outcomes of he outcomes of the 15th BRICS Summit and on the outcome of the panel investigation into the docking of the Lady R vessel in South Africa.

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Joburg City Manager Floyd Brink says over 140 foreigners arrested previously for collecting money from residents

Joburg City Manager said over 140 foreign nationals were in 2019 arrested for collecting rent from residents at the building. He confirmed the City had rented the building to the Gauteng Department of Social Development, who used it as a shelter for abused women and children, before it was hijacked. Brink said there was no update from the SA Police Services regarding the case of the 140 foreigners who were arrested for illegally collecting rent during a raid.

More here.

Over 50 hijacked buildings in Joburg 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.

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)

Rivers said most of the buildings targeted by criminal syndicates were City-owned or State-owned buildings.

A survivor speaks

A Malawian national who was living in the five-story building in Johannesburg CBD when a fire broke out, told IOL how she had to jump from the second floor with her luggage while the fire engulfed the building.

“By midnight, I just heard people screaming and crying saying, ‘fire’ inside, ‘fire!’”

The sound of people shouting echoed through the burning building in Johannesburg CBD, said a survivor who was trapped inside.

Survivor, Malawian national, Doreen Kumwenda (26) has been left stranded outside a store with her luggage after the building she was living in was gutted by a fire in the early hours of Thursday morning in the Johannesburg CBD. Picture: Kamogelo Moichela/IOL

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Ramaphosa says Joburg Fire must be a lesson, wake up call

President Cyril Ramaphosa has referred to the tragedy in the Johannesburg CBD as a lesson and wake-up call for government and other role-players to restore the rights of people.

He said the red-tape often makes it difficult for government to do the right things at the right time.

"There are processes that government need to embark upon, from city, provincial and national level that we find are restrictive impediments that stand in the way, like in this situation.

“When a building is condemned, we go through too many regulatory processes that can lead to situations like this. Parliament needs to ensure that we don't go through too many rules that hold us back from doing right by our people," Ramaphosa said.

More here.

Ramaphosa arrives at Joburg Fire site

President Cyril Ramaphosa has arrived at the scene in Marshalltown in Johannesburg where a fire broke out in a "hijacked" building, resulting in over 74 deaths.

President Cyril Ramaphosa engages with Joburg Speaker Colleen Makhubele during a site visit at the Usindiso Shelter for abused women and children, which was hijacked by criminal syndicates. Picture: COJ/Twitter

Ramaphosa is currently being briefed by City of Joburg officials on the situation. Ramaphosa was expected to address the nation on the outcomes of he outcomes of the 15th BRICS Summit and on the outcome of the panel investigation into the docking of the Lady R vessel in South Africa.

However, he postponed his national address to make his way to the Johannesburg CBD. He is expected to brief the media after he is debriefed by the officials and completes an inspection on the scene.

Putin on Joburg Fire

Russian President Vladimir Putin has joined African Union Commission chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat in expressing solidarity with President Cyril Ramaphosa and the people of South Africa over the death of more than 70 people in a fire in central Johannesburg.

Putin spoke to Ramaphosa after the devastating fire in a building in the city centre.

He said the incident was tragic and hoped those who were injured will make a speedy recovery in hospital.

Ramaphosa to visit site of hijacked building where over 70 died

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was scheduled to address the nation on Thursday night, has since cancelled address and is now on his way to the Johannesburg CBD where a fire gutted a "hijacked" building, resulting in over 70 deaths.

Ramaphosa was due to address the nation on the outcomes of the 15th BRICS Summit and on the outcome of the panel investigation into the docking of the Lady R vessel in South Africa.

Following the disaster in Johannesburg, Ramaphosa is now scheduled to conduct a site visit to Marshalltown in Johannesburg to receive a briefing on the emergency and recovery operations and on the support the government is providing to the affected families.

Premier Lesufi speaks on Joburg Fire

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi has spoken to media about the fire that gutted the Usindiso Shelter for Women and Children building and left over 70 people dead and 43 injured. He was speaking ahead of Ramaphosa’s visit.

Joburg Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda says death toll now 74

“We share the pain of those who have suffered great injury.

“We as the executive will be visiting the victims at the various hospitals.

“We will offer our messages of support and check on the extent of the injuries the victims have suffered. We further want to acknowledge the bravery of our EMS Department to try and rescue and salvage the situation,” said Gwamanda.

Gwamanda said he would be meeting swiftly with the Gauteng provincial government and national government leaders.

The 74th person to die, succumbed at hospital.

Joburg mayor Kabelo Gwamanda and city manager Floyd Brink lead a technical media briefing after more than 70 people died after fire at a Joburg building. Picture: COJ/Twitter


Ramaphosa sends condolences

President Cyril Ramaphosa has spoken about the deadly Joburg CBD fire which claimed at least 73 lives.

He had been addressing police officers at a women's month event.

President Cyril Ramaphosa

He said: “I would like to offer my deep condolences to the families and wish those injured a speedy recovery.

“My thoughts are with those who have lost their place of accommodation in this terrible incident.

“This is a great tragedy. Our hearts go out to every person affected by this disaster.

“This incident calls on all of us to reach out to survivors and restore people's psychological well being and offer all help possible.

“It is sad that Women's Month ends with such a tragedy,” he said, adding that he hoped investigations would prevent a repeat of such.

SERI responds to Joburg Fire

Edward Molopi, a researcher and advocacy officer for the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI), which has been blamed by several political parties for blocking government efforts to evict people from dilapidated buildings, has defended itself.

During an interview with eNCA, Molopi said SERI had no interest in poor people living in dilapidated buildings in the Joburg CBD.

“There is a process that needs to be followed when evicting people. If the State says there is a building which is a safety hazard, they also need to make sure those people have an alternative accommodation.

“They say we want to demolish buildings without providing an alternative for the people which is unconstitutional. No one will oppose if the government says there is alternative accommodation,” said Molopi.

They have called for government to run housing programmes for the poor who need accommodation in the city.

More here

VIDEO: Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni on hijacked building fire in Johannesburg

Minister in the Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, said the NGOs played a negative influence in assisting the government to tackle the hijacked buildings in Johannesburg.

Minister in the Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni addressed the media after the hijacked building was destroyed by fire. Picture: Kamogelo Moichela/IOL

She said the NGOs take the government to court for trying to evict people from illegal, dangerous, and hijacked buildings claiming that the government denied them their “right to shelter.”

She also urged people not to stay in hijacked because they are dangerous and not safe for their children. She said the government will brief the media on how to handle the situation and provide necessary assistance to the affected people.

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde offers his province services

Political party leaders and members have rushed to the scene in he Johannesburg CBD to offer their assistance to those affected by the tragic fire that has so far claimed over 70 lives and left many others injured.

A massive fire broke out in a five-storey building at the corner of Alberts Street and Delvers Street in Marshalltown in Johannesburg in the early hours of Thursday morning.

According to reports, the building belonged to a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that was abandoned and then hijacked by inner-city residents living there illegally.

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde has also offered his provincial government’s services to assist following the devastating incident.

Winde said he was “stunned and devastated” by the tragedy, not only for Johannesburg, but for the whole of South Africa.

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Former Joburg Mayor Herman Mashaba says the tragedy in the Joburg CBD was a disaster waiting to happen

Former Johannesburg mayor and leader of ActionSA Herman Mashaba says the fire in one of the buildings that led to the death of dozens of people was a disaster waiting to happen.

He accused NGOs and the ANC of blocking him from removing people who were illegally occupying hijacked buildings.

Mashaba, who was mayor between 2016 and 2019, said he was insulted when he raised red flags about hazardous buildings.

“As far as I am concerned, this was an accident bound to happen. When I brought this potential tragedy to South Africans, some people and human rights lawyers unleashed insults and name-calling against me, including the ANC reporting me to the SAHRC (South African Human Rights Commission),” said Mashaba.

IFP MPL in Gauteng and party provincial leader, Bonginkosi Dhlamini said they were shocked by the number of people killed in the fire.

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Stay out the Joburg CBD warns JMPD

Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) spokesperson Xolani Fihle has warned motorists to avoid the Johannesburg CBD as emergency services are still at the devastating scene where a fire gutted a five-storey building at the corner of Alberts and Delvers Street in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Fihle said that a number of roads around the area have been closed to traffic to accommodate emergency services vehicles and disaster management services. He warned motorists and the general public to avoid the area.

Joburg CBD Fire disaster is ‘not surprising at all’

Johannesburg property owners and managers say the fire that gutted a hijacked building in the CBD on Thursday “is not surprising at all”.

In fact, there was another fire in a hijacked building on the corner of Kerk and Troye streets last week, on August 24; no lives were lost so there was no media attention.

This morning’s fire has so far claimed the lives of more than 70 people.

Angela Rivers, general manager of the Johannesburg Property Owners and Managers Association (JPOMA), says the majority of fires in hijacked buildings occur for two reasons: illegal electricity connections, and people starting fires within the building to cook due to electricity being disconnected.

In this particular Johannesburg CBD building in Marshalltown, the hijackers had built individual shacks within the floors. In many hijacked buildings, Rivers says the residents use office partitions to build walls, and these are obviously highly flammable.

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NGOs block efforts to remove people from hijacked buildings

City of Joburg’s Council Speaker Colleen Makhubele has visited the site where at last count, 73 people died during an inferno at a hijacked building in downtown Johannesburg on Thursday morning.

Makhubele said the scourge of hijacked buildings across central Joburg, illegally occupied continues to be a headache for the City as several non-governmental organisations stand with the illegal dwellers.

“I am sure you saw at some point MMC Kenny Kunene (as acting Joburg mayor that time) was dealing with the issue. He got a lot of backlash and he was taken to court for dealing with the unsafe, hijacked city that is non-compliant,” Makhubele told journalists outside the building.

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Youngest Joburg CBD Fire victim was just 18 months old

Joburg Emergency Management Services (EMS) spokesperson, Robert Mulaudzi, says out of the 73 people who died, seven were minors with the youngest being one and a half years old.

He says the cause of the fire is still unknown.

DA calls for adequate housing

Democratic Alliance (DA) Leader, John Steenhuisen said the party would continue to push for adequate housing and safer living conditions for those living in the inner city of Johannesburg.

Steenhuisen was commenting on the catastrophic fire that gutted a hijacked building in the city centre on Thursday morning, leaving more than 60 people dead so far.

“This is a catastrophe for our nation, causing unimaginable pain and suffering to innocent people,” Steenhuisen said.

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Joburg CBD Fire: Inside the dilapidated hijacked buildings that sprawl the Johannesburg city centre

The Johannesburg Property Owners and Managers Association (JPOMA) has called on the City of Joburg to act against those who have hijacked buildings in the inner city, plunged them into squalor and turning them into crime hotspots.

According to Angela Rivers, the association’s general manager, the issue has escalated over the past few years to the point where their members seek advice on a weekly basis about how to protect their tenants and their businesses. The association represents most of the landlords in Johannesburg’s inner city.

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While the death toll from the inferno which gutted a hijacked building in the Joburg CBD on Thursday continues to escalate, City of Johannesburg’s Emergency Management Services (EMS) were faced with the sordid reality of carrying charred bodies out of the building.

“It is a sad day indeed in the City of Johannesburg,” Joburg EMS spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi said speaking to broadcaster Newzroom Afrika at the scene.

By 10.30 on Thursday, the revised death toll showed that at least 73 bodies have been removed from the gutted building. One of the deceased people is a toddler.

Mulaudzi said in his decades of serving in the emergency service, he had not seen such a harrowing scene.

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It is like an informal settlement

City of Joburg’s EMS spokesperson, Robert Mulaudzi said the fire had been extinguished and emergency services had begun a search and recovery in the five-storey residential building.

Countless people have been left homeless after a fire ripped through a building in the Joburg CBD. More than 60 people have died. Picture: Timothy Bernard / African News Agency (ANA)

“At this stage, the number of fatalities might increase. Since we have stopped firefighting operations, the fire has been extinguished, we are doing what we call search and recovery, just to make sure that each and every floor is checked for bodies,” Mulaudzi said speaking to broadcaster Newzroom Afrika from the scene.

“You will understand that it is like an informal settlement, inside a building. So we have to go through all the debris inside the building, floor by floor to make sure that we can be able to recover more bodies out of this fire incident.”

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