A devastating fire ripped through a rundown building in central Johannesburg, South Africa, resulting in the tragic loss of at least 74 lives and leaving dozens more injured. The building, which had been converted into informal housing, became a death trap as the flames engulfed the structure. Among the victims were 12 children, adding to the heart-wrenching toll of the disaster. Rescue teams worked tirelessly to search for survivors and recover charred bodies. The cause of the fatal fire remains unknown.
Rescue officials confirmed that the fire was extinguished, but the aftermath revealed a scene of devastation. Over 50 individuals have been reported injured, according to Robert Mulaudzi, a spokesperson for the city’s emergency services. Eyewitness accounts paint a harrowing picture of the tragedy, with survivors recounting their desperate attempts to escape the inferno. Wiseman Mpepa, who managed to survive, described waking up to screams and finding the building’s exit blocked by flames. He broke his window but struggled to climb through, urging others to head towards a gate that was unfortunately shut.
Videos captured moments after the fire broke out showed massive orange flames consuming the lower floor of the building while scores of people stood outside in shock. The aftermath revealed a grim scene, with onlookers gathering around burnt-out areas, shattered windows, and scattered belongings. Authorities at the scene have not indicated any signs of deliberate arson, but the exact cause of the blaze remains under investigation. The fire erupted around 1:30 a.m. local time, catching many residents unaware as they slept.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his condolences, labeling the incident a tragedy. The building in question was one of many “hijacked” structures in downtown Johannesburg, abandoned by landlords and taken over by gangs or groups who lease them to migrants and individuals unable to afford alternative housing. These hijacked buildings often lack proper safety measures and fail to meet basic regulations.
Johannesburg City Manager Floyd Brink revealed that approximately 200 groups of people were affected by the fire in the five-story building. The structure, owned by the City of Johannesburg, was previously used as a court during the apartheid era. After the conclusion of its lease as a shelter for abused women, the building was “hijacked,” with illegal water and electricity connections established.