The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) in the Petrus Mashishi (Johannesburg) Region is saddened by the news of a City of Johannesburg owned building which caught fire in the early hours of this morning, resulting more than 70 lives perishing. SAMWU sends its sincere and heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of the individuals who lost their lives while also wishing a speedy recovery to as many as 50 individuals who have been rushed to various hospitals across the City. 

We commend the speedy response by our members and workers from various emergency units who tried all they could to contain the fire and save as many lives as possible. Despite previous experiences wherein workers lost their lives while attending to fire emergencies in the City, workers continued to selflessly attend to contain the fire and rescuing as many people as possible. 

The building in question, is fully owned by the City of Johannesburg and previously served as a shelter for vulnerable women and children but was later abandoned resulting in it being illegally occupied. There are several buildings within the City which have been deliberately abandoned by the City, creating an opportunity for criminal elements to hijack these buildings, illegally rent them out to the poor without any maintenance. 

Several abandoned buildings, especially in the City Center have become inhabitable due to the conditions which they are in, some do not have proper sanitation, electricity and water supply thus posing health risks to occupants. Given the state that many of these buildings are in, the likelihood of a similar tragedy occurring is very high. 

This tragedy as a result of the City failing to properly plan to deal with the influx of migration into the City by many people from other provinces and outside the boarders of the country in search of economic opportunities. Johannesburg has historically been the destination of choice for many people looking to make a living. Despite the increased influx into Johannesburg, the City has failed to address infrastructure needs for residents and the poor in particular. 

As SAMWU, we call on the City to reclaim all buildings it owns, especially those in the inner city. For a City that is complaining about dwindling revenue collection, it is illogical to abandon assets which have the potential to increase the City’s coffers while simultaneously addressing the housing backlog.  

The Union has on several occasions proposed to the City that these buildings should be reclaimed, maintained and leased to municipal workers who are unable to afford housing and as a result, find themselves living in shacks townships. Many of these workers spend much of their salaries to commute from their place of residence to work. Leasing these buildings to municipal workers will relieve workers of the added economic burdens they continuously carry. By reclaiming these buildings, the City will prevent further tragedies from reoccurring while also giving dignity to municipal workers and increasing its revenue base. 

As a Union, we are of the view that the City should take full responsibility for the tragic loss of lives that has occurred as a result of this fire. Had the City acted when it had the time to, these lives would not have been lost. Had the City properly planned for the influx into Johannesburg, families would not be mourning their loved ones. 

We once more convey our sincere condolences to the families of the deceased and demand full accountability from the City of Johannesburg. 

Issued by SAMWU Petrus Mashishi (Johannesburg) Region

Thobani Nkosi

Regional Secretary

066 290 2134


Richard Moila

Deputy Regional Secretary 

073 172 9459