City of Johannesburg Must Account for Fire

The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation expresses its sincerest condolences to the victims of the fire in the Johannesburg building. This has thus far claimed over 70 lives. We wish the injured speedy recovery. 

Johannesburg city officials have been quick to lay blame for this on NGOs which are supposedly profiteering from the building. It would appear that the city leased the building to an NGO, who operated a shelter for women and children. The city clearly never bothered to inspect it since granting the lease. The city of Johannesburg therefore cannot absolve itself from its dereliction of duty. 

Compliance with city by-laws is non-existent across the city and that this building was possibly not subject to any inspection by city officials should not come as any surprise. 

We call on the city to reveal which NGO has the lease on that building and to indicate to the public the terms and conditions of the lease agreement. 

The reportedly late arrival of the fire engines is another matter that needs to be explained by the city. That it has not had a fully functional fire engine fleet has been known for a while. We now see what the consequences of this has been.

To blame organisations such as SERI for this incident is beyond shocking. Civil
society organisations did not rule on matters before the courts, the judiciary did. Perhaps a closer reading of the judgments will help the politicians, who now want to escape responsibility by blaming NGOs for their failures. If the legislation has flaws the power to change it does not lie with NGO’s.

At the heart of this issue is a growing housing crisis for which there does not appear to be a plan that addresses it on the scale needed. This crisis, coupled with a poorly managed and dysfunctional city, has left building owners at the mercy of building hijackers and other criminal syndicates.

When politicians are caught up in power struggles over who should run the city and in fractured coalitions that are not able to focus on effective governance and management of the city, we have such tragedies as the result.

The city of Johannesburg is in dire need of a change of political and administrative leadership. It is a city in crisis and requires leadership and management that is up to the task of keeping its residents safe from disasters of this nature.

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Zusipe Batyi



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