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Johannesburg CBD fire — What it looks like inside the city’s hijacked buildings

Johannesburg CBD fire — What it looks like inside the city’s hijacked buildings
Exterior view of the Express building on 44 Nugget Street, downtown Johannesburg which was previously a school and at some point a church. Photo:Michelle Banda

Housing shortages are one of the biggest problems faced by the underprivileged in Johannesburg — fuelled by rapid population growth. The City of Johannesburg is facing a 500,000-strong housing backlog, with at least 100,000 people living homeless, according to the city’s last count five years ago.

On Thursday, 31 August, in the early morning hours, a fire broke out at a five-storey hijacked building on the corner Alberts and Delvers streets in the Johannesburg city center.

At least 73 people died in the fire, with scores more injured. The building is said to have had as many as 200 people living in it.

Daily Maverick has reported extensively on Joburg’s inner-city housing crisis. The photos we’ve taken, as well as others supplied by the Johannesburg Property Owners & Managers Association, expose the circumstances people live in in the dilapidated hijacked buildings.

Also read: Bad to worse – Massive gap in rightful housing and basic service delivery for Joburg’s inner-city low-income residents

joburg housing nugget street

Makeshift boards and curtains divide the space where a community of more than 200 waste pickers reside in the Express building in Nugget Street. The occupants are both South African and foreign nationals. (Photo: Michelle Banda)

joburg housing express

What used to be a toilet in the Express building is now a locked room. Occupants survive in the building with overcrowding and a lack of electricity, water supply and sanitation. (Photo: Michelle Banda)

joburg housing crisis

Nqobile Zulu, a resident at the Express building in Johannesburg, leads us inside the dilapidated structure. (Photo: Michelle Banda)

joburg housing city

Broken windows inside a 21-unit city-owned abandoned apartment building. (Photo: Michelle Banda)

Read more: Mind the gap — solutions to Joburg’s inner-city housing crisis hamstrung by budget constraints

Fifty families have crammed into a ruined building at the corner of Alexander and Market Streets in inner-city Johannesburg. (Photo: Kimberly Mutandiro)

Platinum Place, a hijacked building in Johannesburg

Platinum Place, a formerly hijacked building in Doornfontein, after the illegal tenants had left showed the inhuman conditions in which these people lived. (Photo: JPOMA)

Platinum Place lift shaft

Platinum Place’s lift shaft had become a rubbish tip. (Photo: JPOMA)

Platinum Place's roof was missing

Platinum Place missed a roof and all the interior fittings were gone when new owners eventually took over. (Photo: JPOMA)


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Les Thorpe says:

    Definitely a “world class city”!!

    • michael bridgens says:

      helpful comment

      • Libby De Villiers says:

        Sure, it doen’t help. But nor does wise, practical advice on this platform help.
        If the will was there to make things better and to work to do so, we would not have been in tis mess. The top brass is to blame. They are a lazy, incompetent and immoral bunch of thieves.
        No advice, help, or support will help. You can lead a horse to the water..
        Best the private sector rolls up it sleeves, coughs up more money and does the job. Pity though, we are not allowed to make the laws, run the judiciary, hospitals, schools etc as well. This country would have been paradise.

  • Bob Kuhn says:

    The anc and their supporters are master despoilers of the civilisation they all crave…oh the irony and predictability of these craven people!

  • Ginny Swart says:

    These conditions are awful, but what is the solution? Too many people and not enough housing- and too much money taken by corruption which could have been used to build houses or flats. Everyone is very happy to pass the buck but who is going to actually DO something? No good looking at the Johannesburg council.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      There is only one solution:

      Get a government in power that understands the following simple rule:

      If you want a first world society with first world safety and benefits you need to enforce the law reliably, and you need to educate so that people understand the WHY of it.

      Without this people will continue to suffer and die needlessly, and our country will continue to disintegrate needlessly.

  • norman mokone says:

    For starters, close the borders. No amount of housing will accommodate the number of illegal immigrants that continue to make there way into South Africa. ANC has ruined and annihilated everything since coming into power and now we are witnessing only the start of the aftermath!!!

  • Nqubeko Mthembu says:

    What the hell!!! How are people allowed to live like this?!

    • Jennifer D says:

      The question is who is responsible for the millions and millions of people who are unable to support themselves? They stream into South Africa which now has only minor remnants of the African powerhouse we once were and an economy in tatters – worsening by the day. Who is the person/s you feel should be changing their circumstances. If South Africans don’t realise that they have to look after themselves and stop holding out the begging bowl or expecting jobs without earning them and pay without performance, this is what happens. If you feel responsible for these people, then you should work harder, earn more and go and help them. The “someone” who should be helping them is you because there’s nothing left in the coffers after ANC rule.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      You’re surprised? Do you truly not see what the ANC has been doing, and not doing, since 1994?

  • Confucious Says says:

    This what happens when you chase rate payers away! It is no different to any other African city any more, and if it is…. give it time. It was not too long ago when the city was a functioning, clean place. Well done anc!

  • Ritchie Morris says:

    A consequence of urban carrying capacity overshoot. TEN solutions which should have started +20 years ago: 1. incentivize smaller families, ie population growth control – full child support for the 1st child, 1/2 child grant for the 2nd child, unless voluntary sterilization then full support for the 2nd child – no child support thereafter; 2. Promote growth in the rural areas to reduce urbanisation; 3. Start (many) kibbutz style farm enterprises which include all aspect of what a farm needs from produce/animal production, to irrigation services, fences, wheelbarrow and spade manufacture, produce packaging, etc – much of the old homeland areas are totally under utilized – the old Transkei has good agricultural potential. 4. Produce from kibbutzim and emerging farmers should be bought by government institutions, eg prisons and school feeding schemes; 5. Successful/enthusiastic workers of the kibbutzim get allocated their own land to set-up their own farming enterprises; 6. Control illegal immigrants into SA – it is just not possible to allow the free flow into SA cities from the north and expect the support systems to cope; 7. Be more ethically supportive of free and fare elections in countries to the north so that their own economies do not collapse due to crooked leadership. 8. Put professionals in charge of cities, not political friends – ie reduce the municipal decision making and influence by politicians. 9. Enforce laws more firmly. 10. Punish criminals more harshly.

    • I hear you Ritchie, however you seem to place the population control on the women’s shoulders. What a misogynistic remark. If you look at China whose two child – preferably males – system, currently leaves them with an aging population that they cannot support. So personally, I think you need to rethink that plan. Your kibbutz scheme examples gets you a 10. Well thought out and a way forward for all. As far as the politicians go what can I say?
      10 Yes but a review of the litigious society that has been birthed of recent years needs to be outsourced to short quick inexpensive mediators whose decisions are final. There seem to be too many courts bogged down in cases that are driven by spite as well as petty issues that can be dealt with by retired magistrates and court clerks.

      • Ritchie Morris says:

        Thank you for your comment which I agree with – mostly. However, there are a few factors that prevail that require consideration and perhaps harsh but unusual solutions – these are very much cultural to our continent. Many births in the underprivileged population occur out of wedlock, plus we have an ever increasing teenage pregnancy issue. It’s not just the poor who need to restrict the number of children – rich western societies are far more resource consumptive and have an even greater responsibility to live more economically. African society is mostly very patriarchal, especially in the rural areas, and this unfortunately means that women will need to take the initiative in the number of children they have. Education is lacking or very inferior in many rural areas, and countries. It is good education that results, broadly, in adjusted population growth. The reason China is ‘raiding’ fish stocks, timber, resources, etc from many poorer countries is to feed and continue growing the economy for their too large a population. The primary reason why they did away with the 1 child policy is that their capitalist consumptive society has grown and needs to continue growing to retain demand. Unfortunately the African situation is dire as many countries have exceeded their carrying capacities due to poor and corrupt leadership and not entirely due to excessive population numbers. It is the overshot socio-economic carrying capacities that drive migration in search of a better life.

    • Totally agree Ritchie. SA can’t sustain this birthrate. In any event why would anyone want to bring a child into poverty and what future does that child have? Some have children just to get the child grants. Cannot compare this to any overseas country as there they have employment and majority pay tax. Here it is the 9% of taxpayers having to support all these kids. Schools can’t cope, hospitals can’t cope and lack of housing.

  • Reading and watching this debacle from Australia. What I find most disconcerting is that now all these photos are coming out depicting the disgraceful living conditions people who are poor find themselves. I know that there have been blackouts and water shortages. However we are talking about adults here. Who chose to live in those conditions. They brought children into an environment full of crime. They literally saw and nevertheless chose the venue. Yes there is a housing shortage where people are having to live in cars, tents, under bridges and on railway lines. BUT South Africa is not unique in the homeless stakes. In Australia there are thousands of people who are homeless. England is the same. There are many NGO’s whose funding is supposed to go to aid the homeless and displaced. I find it very strange that the people who were almost burned alive refuse to move out of that environment, refuse help, and refuse to register themselves in order to obtain social services. The same issue arose in front of the UN buildings in Pretoria. Where is a government in any country supposed to get money to house people in areas they feel they are entitled to. I’m all for a socialist perspective of democracy, however, realistically there is only so much to go around. The crux is, if you refuse help you stay in the same situation and live with your choices. THE END.

    • Wayne . says:

      It’s not quite as simple as that my expat friend. Beside being severely underfunded and and incredibly scarce – the “help” homeless (South Africa) people can receive (let alone illegal foreigners) in the form of initiatives run by NGOs and shelters often comes with a similar cost to paying the gangs to live in squalor. More often than not strict rulings with heavy religious influences. If the answer was as simple as that choice you posit, would the problem not be solved by now?

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    We all talk about illegal tenants, but seldom mention the “fleas” who demand their monthly feed of blood money?
    This latter group have more liability for the deaths of 70+ people but, it seems to me, that they are immune from adverse comment, while they live at leisure in their large free standing homes?

    • Jennifer D says:

      And rumour has it, many of these “fleas” are government officials. How about an investigation and exposure of the people running these illegal buildings. Now that would be interesting.

  • Denise Smit says:

    If I were living in Gauteng I will be very scared. Nothing maintained, corruption ++++, cadre deployment, a whole rich city rotten to the bone, on the brink of implosion or explosion. And politicking standing in the way of everything. Fikile Mbalula saying that Gauteng has been run by the DA since 2016. Really!!!!!!! That is the one thing the ANC/EFF know how to do is blaming others for things falling apart. You are the cause of the destruction ANC/EFF nobody else. Denise Smit

  • Gustav Diedericks says:

    Why is Daily Maverick so disingenuous about the people in these buildings? The vast majority are illegally in this country, and these buildings have been hijacked by criminals to make money off of these illegals. In addition, this situation was created by the very woke, like Daily Maverick reporters, who give money to NGOs, many of them foreign, who impose their views on our laws and force the ANC to concede certain “human rights” on people who do not deserve them. These people then “enforce” these laws upon the ANC and other property owners when they try to get rid of these invaders.

    The fire and its subsequent outcome are but one of many more attrocities to come thanks to the Woke and their psychotic push for “human rights”. Stop blaming only the ANC. Do some introspection upon yourselves!

  • henry.jooste says:

    I do not want to shift the blame from the current leadership in Johannesburg – but – we worked in the Hillbrow, Berea and central Johannesburg area during the 1980s and highlighted this exact same problem back then to the city council. This is a VERY old problem. Nobody has had the political will to deal with it. It does make one wonder what is going on behind the scene. Who is making the money? The simplistic answer is criminals, but is it that simple?

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    There is absolutely no excuse for people who can’t be bothered to clean up after themselves – no matter how poor or disadvantaged! Amazing that the Municipality is prepared to let a once proud city implode like this. Everyone – the Mayor, Municipality and the illegal squatters – should be ashamed of themselves.

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