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Mail & Guardian Online reporter and Sapa, Sapa-AFP22 Jul 2008 14:41
Six people were confirmed dead in a fire that broke out in the Kruger Park flats in central Pretoria on Tuesday, Gauteng police said.
“Six people have been confirmed dead while 20 others were injured and taken to hospital,” said Tshwane spokesperson Console Tleane.
It was not clear how many people had died from jumping from the building to escape the blaze. Several people were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.
There were also reports that a baby girl had died in the fire.
Tleane said the city had heard of these reports but could not confirm them.
“We convey condolences to the families and communities,” he said.
Superintendent Eugene Opperman earlier said that two people had jumped out of the burning building and three people died inside after the fire broke out in the morning.
Opperman said the fire, which had started mainly in the rubbish chute of the building, had been extinguished and the situation was under control. The exact cause of the blaze was not known.
He said 13 people had been rescued from the roof of the building in an operation involving three police helicopters and three South African Air Force helicopters. One South African Police Service (SAPS) fixed-wing aircraft was also deployed.
Opperman said the rubbish chute had been damaged in the fire but the building itself was “OK”.
The building has since been closed to the public. Tleane could not say where its residents of would be housed. “One of the things we’ll be working on between now and 5pm is alternative accommodation,” he said.
The fire, which was allegedly started by residents of Kruger Park after the Red Ants (security guards) began evicting their neighbours in the Schubart Park block, was extinguished just after noon.
The Anti-Privatisation Forum said it feared seven people had died in the blaze in Kruger Park and that residents of Schubart Park were “frantic” about the security of their homes.
“The Red Ants have on the back of the tragedy been deployed to empty the building of residents’ belongings, effecting an eviction which is being contested,” the forum said in a statement.
It said representatives of the residents were trying desperately to gain an interdict from the Pretoria High Court against the eviction.
Forum spokesperson Aubrey Ramohlale said the court granted the forum an interdict at about 3.30pm.
Meanwhile, divisional commissioner of visible policing Arno Lamoer has expressed appreciation of the “heroic efforts” of the police air wing. In all, 13 people were evacuated by air. A police crew member stayed on the burning premises to assist in evacuating victims who could not be reached by other emergency personnel.
“I would like to personally thank members of the SAPS air wing for their heroic and selfless efforts. I have no doubt that our pilots and crew can be counted as among the best in any police service in the world and I have every confidence that they will continue rendering a professional airborne law-enforcement service to the people of South Africa,” said Lamoer.
He also commended other police and emergency services personnel for their efforts.
Earlier, police had started removing residents who had defaulted on their rent at the Schubart Park flats. No violence was reported but residents were protesting against their removals by singing, dancing and making a “helluva lot” of noise, Seanego said at the time.
“We are removing all those who have defaulted [on their rent]. We will be here until the evictions are over,” he said.
By late afternoon, Seanego said that the Red Ants had stopped evictions. “They are now finished. They were evicting those who had not been paying rent at the Schubart Park flats. Those who had been paying rent were not evicted.”
Last week, hundreds of disgruntled residents marched to the mayoral offices to hand over a memorandum detailing their grievances.
Among other things, the residents are insisting that the housing management company, Housing Company Tshwane—which they blame for the poor living conditions at the flats—be removed, and that they should not pay rent because of this “incompetence”.
They demand that the city investigate the activities of the “illegitimate” Housing Company Tshwane. The company must also be charged in terms of the Municipal Management Finance Act for “permitting the building to deteriorate to such a state of disrepair”.
Tshwane mayor Gwen Ramokgopa paid a visit to the flats complex last week and said residents would need to vacate the flat complex until much-needed renovations could be completed.
She said this could not, as the residents wanted, be done in a block-by-block manner as the complex was unsafe.
At the time, a spokesperson for the residents, Ronnie Mahlangu, said the mayor had “lied” to the people, made “petty excuses” and not kept her promises. “She betrayed our rights ... we want our title deeds, that is our right.”
The Tshwane council could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.—Sapa
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