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.
Sputnik News in Russia also reported that President Vladimir Putin called South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to convey his condolences, according to the Kremlin.
“Dear Mr President, please accept my sincere condolences on the tragic consequences of the fire in Johannesburg. I asked you to convey words of sympathy and support to the families and friends of the victims, as well as speedy recovery for the injured,” Putin was quoted saying by the Kremlin, according to Sputnik News.
Russian Journalist Asya Samoilova said the country’s flagship news site ran the story extensively.
“I checked the RIA.RU website, our flagship in Russia and it has about 4-5 articles on that terrible case,” Samoilova told IOL.
Sahar Zaman, a journalist based in India, also confirmed that multiple news platforms on the subcontinent carried the Johannesburg disaster.
“Just checked, it has been reported in NDTV and Times of India,” Zaman said.
Brazilian journalist Luis Boaventura confirmed that the country’s biggest media house ran the story.
“It was noticed in Brazil too. I saw in our most important TV news broadcast,” Boaventura said.
Chinese news house Xinhua also reported on the fire.
Xinhua news reported that Johannesburg City Manager Cilliers Brink said the occupants who lived inside the building had illegal water and electricity connections.
Almost every news company from western nations, including Fox, CNN, NBC, BBC and The New York Times ran the story as well.
On Thursday evening, CNN reporter Eleni Giokos ran a story about her visit to one of the hijacked buildings in Johannesburg during her time in South Africa.
In 2017, I covered a raid of a hijacked building in Johannesburg with former mayor Herman Mashaba. It was a terrifying experience, with people living in inhumane and dangerous conditions.— Eleni Giokos Ελένη Γιώκου (@EleniGiokos) August 31, 2023
Here's a short clip. pic.twitter.com/9AZbMxvXvZ
Giokos took viewers through a video from 2017, that described the living conditions inside these hijacked buildings, which has been described as an indoor informal settlement by many.
Giokos was joined by then mayor Herman Mashaba during a police raid.
The CNN reporter also described the building as “an informal settlement within a building”.
Authorities in Johannesburg are still investigating the cause of the fire.
Amid the chaos on the ground, the tension within the Johannesburg City Council, regarding some members’ lack of confidence in Mayor Gwamanda, has also added pressure to the speed at which the scene is cleared and answers are found.
Two days ago, Gwamanda from the Al Jama-ah party, faced a motion of no confidence and survived.