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Over 70 people were destroyed as fire guts rundown Johannesburg flat partnership

September 04, 2023: Over 70 people were destroyed overnight when fire raged through a five-story Johannesburg flat partnership, one of the most destructive disasters in a city where deprivation, home fires, and homelessness are widespread.

Gutted, blackened by soot, and still smoking on Thursday as emergency services gathered around it and bodies lay covered in blankets on a nearby street, the structure stood in a rundown area.

It was owned by municipal authorities who, 12 hours after the blaze broke out, could not have clearly understood who had lived there. One official said criminal gangs may have leased out some rooms.

President Cyril Ramaphosa stated that he expected an ongoing investigation into the causes of the fire would help prevent a similar problem from occurring in the future.

Leo, a 25-year-old who stayed at the blaze, had been living on the building’s second floor. He ran along with his mother via the stairs.

“People were just running out. It was dark, and there was smoke. You couldn’t see anything,” he said.

At least one person jumped to their death, said Thando le Nkosi Manzini, a student who witnessed the fire from the street. “I saw a guy jumping from the fourth floor,” he said.

The municipal administration said nearly 73 people had died and 43 had been injured in the blaze. Johannesburg officials initially suggested settlers had occupied the establishment.

City Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda told reporters the municipality had leased it to a charity for replaced women but that it had “ended up serving a different purpose” without further details.

Lebogang Isaac Maile, the head of the Human Settlements department for Gauteng province, which contains Johannesburg, said some of those burned to death may have been renting from criminal gangs illegally collecting rent.

“There are cartels who prey on who are vulnerable people. Because some of these buildings, if not most of them, are actually in the hands of those cartels who collect rental from the people,” he told reporters.

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Over 70 people were destroyed as fire guts rundown Johannesburg flat partnership