South Africans comprise majority of victims in Joburg blaze, reveals action group

It has been 35 days since the Marshalltown fire in Johannesburg that claimed 77 lives, left many injured and displaced numerous others. While the victims have been widely perceived as predominantly migrants, the Johannesburg Fire Response Action Group, composed of NGOs and activists providing critical support in the absence of government intervention, has revealed a different reality.

Read more in Daily Maverick: City of Johannesburg points finger at NGOs and foreign nationals after deadly fire

Contrary to common belief, the majority of occupiers of the building are South Africans. Detailed data from the coalition shows that among the 501 survivors there are 264 South Africans – 103 women, 89 men, 58 children and 14 people of unknown gender. Other nationalities include 113 Malawians, 93 Tanzanians, three Kenyans, three Mozambicans, one from Eswatini, five from Lesotho and 19 Zimbabweans. The 501 survivors, according to the data, are people from about 245 households and include children as young as three weeks.

This information forms the backbone of a memorandum sent by the coalition to various authorities, demanding urgent government action.

At the core of the demands is the plea for the government to declare the fire a disaster – a crucial step towards facilitating a coordinated government response that includes resource allocation, improved shelter conditions, financial assistance, mental health support, comprehensive long-term plans and employment assistance.

The memorandum comes as the survivors languish in a state of uncertainty, struggling with hunger and desperation, as government promises remain unfulfilled.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Survivors of Joburg’s Marshalltown fire left in limbo, hungry and desperate, after state’s empty promises

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At a briefing on Wednesday, Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi said cost difficulties had prevented the Marshalltown fire inquiry commission from starting on Sunday, 1 October.

The inquiry has two phases: the first focuses on the fire at the Usindiso Building on the corner of Albert and Delvers streets, a so-called hijacked building. The second will make observations and findings about who should be liable for the fire and its impact, and make recommendations for the appropriate steps to be taken and by whom.

The investigation is meant to end on 30 November, with the first report to be submitted on or before 30 December.

The DA’s Gauteng human settlements spokesperson, Mervyn Cirota, said: “This delay is unacceptable. The commission must begin its work immediately as mandated, the outcome of which is again being highlighted by the new fires reported since the Marshalltown fire.” DM

South Africans comprise majority of victims in Joburg blaze, reveals action group