/ 22 January 2024

Woman due in court over Joburg building fire that killed two

Jhb Fire (1)
Sunday’s fire occurred less than six months after an inferno claimed the lives of 77 people in the Marshalltown area of the city. (Johannesburg EMS)

A 30-year-old woman will appear in the Johannesburg magistrate’s court for murder after two people died and four were injured in a fire that gutted a residential building in the Johannesburg city centre at the weekend.

Sunday’s fire occurred less than six months after an inferno claimed the lives of 77 people in the Marshalltown area of the city.

Witnesses saw a woman throwing paraffin at the two-story building on the corner of Commissioner and Nugget streets after an argument with her partner. This was confirmed by Johannesburg mayor Kabelo Gwamanda on Sunday afternoon.

“It is alleged that it was a result of a domestic dispute. I’m not sure if it got to a point where she felt she needed to set the whole place on fire,” he said.

According to the Johannesburg Emergency Management Services, the city is working to house the 200 people displaced by the fire.

“Two bodies were found. More than 15 people were rescued from the roof and the balcony,” EMS spokesperson Nana Radebe-Kgiba said.

The city said it planned to move the displaced people to a shelter in Denver, where temporary dwellings were erected for victims after the Marshalltown fire, by Friday. The shelter is also home to families displaced during a fire in the Booysens informal settlement over two years ago.

The city of Johannesburg said it was in consultation with the Lesotho consulate after it was revealed that many of the building’s occupants were passport holders of that country.

“We are meeting to establish who is in the country legally as we are under no obligation to accommodate [people],” city spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane said.

Mayor Gwamanda said the city council was in the process of identifying the people who were living in the building.

“We are not turning people away but we are undertaking a verification process so that we can provide support to those that are in fact the victims,” he said.

According to city manager Floyd Brink, a man claiming to be the owner of the building which burnt had tried to evict the occupants, resulting in a court dispute. The court order was not granted “because of the lack of evidence as [the man] was not able to prove that he is the actual owner of the building”.

Brink said the city was finding ways to deal with the problem of hijacked buildings.

“We have started a specific conversation and discussions with the Public Investment Corporation — a state-owned organ — to address the issue of bad buildings, so we aim to have a long-term and sustainable approach in addressing these particular bad buildings,” he said.

The said police were handling the investigation.

“So, the matter now is a police matter that is being investigated. However, from our side, we are trying as much as possible because, in our books currently, with the Group Forensic Investigation Service, we are investigating about 188 hijacked buildings,” said Modingoane.

On Monday, Gwamanda praised city officials for conducting due diligence and said the city  was working to stop buildings being hijacked.

“It is for the first time in the history of the city that we have taken an approach to follow processors so that we do not relegate to the initial point where we find the city being contested by non-profit organisations and people being put back into these particular facilities,” he told journalists.