Johannesburg 2023 September Blaze

One of South Africa’s worst building disasters – 76 people dead and dozens more injured in a fire that stunned the country – occurred on Albert Street, last Thursday.

A dangerous, overcrowded district, filled with scrap and cigarette butts is home to many buildings which have been ‘hijacked’ by criminal cartels operating within Johannesburg. These hijacked buildings are rented out by these criminals, to those who simply cannot afford anything else – often migrants who have struggled to start in the city.

One of these dilapidated buildings was the staging ground for the fire – a building that can often house up to 2,000 people but only has space for a few hundred – a building which government officials implored individuals to leave alone, due to its unsafe conditions, over a decade ago.

As the fire tore through the building, individuals found themselves trapped and suffocated. Many survivors of the blaze, only escaped by jumping out of the building or using clothing to form makeshift ropes and shimmy down the side of the building. However, due to the instability of the climb, alongside smokey conditions and the height of the building – many stories up – the majority of those who opted to leave the building via the climb, unfortunately, would not be able to make it – falling to their deaths.

Alongside the tragedy of so many lives lost, individuals have lost all of their possessions, including official documents allowing them to work, and passports allowing them to travel.

For now, those affected by the fire stand at the stone corpse of the building which no longer holds their privacy, or possessions, or loved ones.

Waiting for official government news, or any news from hospitals or mortuaries, the survivors simply remain.

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