Defend Truth


More help needed as Joburg fire victims struggle to piece their lives back together

More help needed as Joburg fire victims struggle to piece their lives back together
Tumi Moleko-Nkomo and her sons Motheo and Atang Moleko from Canna Soup Kitchen help Johannesburg fire victims with food donated to her company. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Organisations and individuals are banding together to help those left homeless and traumatised after last week’s fire in a Joburg building that claimed 77 lives. Survivors, already in dire straits, were left with even less than they had before.

‘Do you know where we can create an identification card, not from Home Affairs, but a stamped card with a person’s details?” says community activist Nigel Branken to a room full of people offering their assistance.

When asked whether he means an affidavit, he says, yes, but in the form of a card, so that people can walk around with it easily – so that they will have some dignity. You have to have dignity, he emphasises, to which all in the room agree.

joburg fire

Security guards keep watch in front of the gutted 80 Albert Street building in the Johannesburg CBD where 77 people died in a fire. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook)

They call a person who might be able to assist and swiftly move on to the next item so that victims of last week’s Albert Street fire can be helped as quickly as possible. It’s a mammoth task as the needs range from food and shelter to access to legal aid.

Based in The Star building in downtown Johannesburg, the African Diaspora Forum (ADF), along with Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia (Kaax), has partnered with multiple individuals and organisations to help victims of the 31 August fire who haven’t gone to the shelters offered by the municipality.

It’s estimated that 80 to 100 people of the around 400 who lived in the building chose not to go to the shelters for fear of victimisation, detention and deportation. Some still want to retrieve their goods left in parts of the building that weren’t badly affected by the fire.

Daily Maverick contacted the Department of Social Development and was told it did not yet have information on how many people went to the shelters or for how long they would be housed there.

‘We still have Ubuntu’

The ADF has offered its offices as a drop-off location for donations and activists and volunteers use it as a meeting point to check in with one another.

Juleka Latib, one of the founding members of Kaax, says she is encouraged by the number of people who have offered to help after the devastating blaze that claimed 77 lives in Marshalltown.

“From the bottom of my heart, I want to say to all the people who came out asking what they can do, it was Africa United. What the victims are going through is so sad but they are so helpful. We hope more will help with whatever little they have. We still have Ubuntu… I’m so glad to see we have not lost it,” said Latib.

Read more in Daily Maverick: After the Albert Street fire – what the authorities should (but probably won’t) announce

Individuals from organisations such as Lawyers for Human Rights, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Light of Hope Africa, and Rivonia Circle are offering to assist people who were arrested in a raid that took place soon after the fire. Around 12 people are being detained for being undocumented (some residents lost their identification documents in the fire).

Authorities have now begun targeting hijacked buildings in the wake of the fire.

The police’s Brigadier Brenda Muridli told Daily Maverick, “The SAPS in Gauteng has always raided hijacked buildings and we will continue to raid them.”

Data collected from almost 40 fire victims shows that documentation is the greatest concern for many who were interviewed by activists trying to help. Most said they were documented as refugees or asylum seekers or had a visa. Some were South African.

Some were unable to go to work as the fire had left them homeless.

Ngephiwe Ngeza was a resident of the block. Currently staying with a friend, she says he is still reeling from the fire.

“When I sleep I still see the flames. I see the dead bodies.”

Ngeza says she needs affordable accommodation. Working as a freelance hairdresser, she says she has lost everything and now has to start over.

Ngeza says rental prices in the city are out of her reach as a self-employed person. Fire victims mentioned paying rentals of between R1,500 and R2,500 a month for a space in the hijacked building.

Commission of inquiry

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi announced on Monday that he had established a commission of inquiry into the fire.

“In Johannesburg, the issue of stolen buildings is becoming a crisis, necessitating drastic action. A thorough intervention is required to ensure that disasters like the Marshalltown fire, one of the deadliest in recent memory, never happen again,” said Lesufi.

“The Gauteng government seeks a comprehensive overhaul of all the underlying issues that put the lives of the residents of the province in danger and a commission of inquiry is the initial step in achieving this objective.

“We urge all affected communities and organisations to make submissions and work with the commission to get to the bottom of this intractable problem of hijacked buildings,” Lesufi said.

Rivonia Circle director Tessa Dooms said a commission was futile and merely an attempt to look busy, with little being done to curb the housing crisis.

“We must look at the purpose of the commission. They don’t need an inquiry to find out why the building wasn’t safe… we all know it was hijacked. They could go to the people who ran the building legally before, and ask why the building is not running any more. This is the SAPS’ job, or Hawks. It’s a special crimes investigation if you escalate it,” said Dooms.

“Before this commission is set up, the Gauteng government should tell us what has been the findings and recommendations from the [Life] Esidimeni [arbitration]… who has been held responsible, who has lost their jobs. People died there too.”

Call for help

Volunteers from the Fire Relief Unit assisting those affected by the blaze at 80 Albert Street are looking for donations of the following items:

  • Bedding: Mattresses, blankets, pillows, duvets, etc.
  • Clothes: For babies, school children, toddlers and adults (undergarments must be new).
  • School supplies: Stationery, school shoes, school bags, jerseys, raincoats, etc.
  • Baby supplies: Baby formula, utensils, bowls, nappies, soft porridge, baby vests, baby baths.
  • Cooking equipment: Two-plate stoves, cooking pots, pans, utensils.
  • Toiletries: Lotion, Vaseline, toothpaste, toothbrushes, sanitary pads, towels, face cloths.
  • Cleaning supplies: Brooms, mops, dustpans, brushes, washing powder, dishwashing liquid.
  • Children’s toys: Suitable for various age groups, including baby toys.

Donations can be dropped off at the African Diaspora Forum offices at 47 Sauer Street, Mezzanine Level, Star Newspaper Building (opposite Luthuli House). DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Become a Maverick Insider

This could have been a paywall

On another site this would have been a paywall. Maverick Insider keeps our content free for all.

Become an Insider