South Africa: ‘We Have Nothing, No Hope’ – The Plight of Residents At a ‘Temporary’ Shelter Provided By City of Joburg

The fire that claimed 77 lives in Johannesburg’s CBD has once again raised the issue of hijacked and unsafe buildings — and the need to provide alternative accommodation for residents of these buildings. However, for some of the former residents of the Cape York building, gutted by fire in 2017, the city’s idea of ‘alternative accommodation’ means squalor.

Residents at “temporary emergency accommodation” at Wembley Stadium, Turffontein have only a small, open space in which to relieve themselves. It’s just a few metres from the tents they have called home for the past six years.

When the dilapidated Cape York building in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, caught fire in 2017, leading to seven deaths, the City of Johannesburg provided hundreds of residents with “temporary emergency accommodation” by moving them into tents at the stadium.

Following the 31 August 2023 fire at 80 Albert Street, which claimed 77 lives, the city has faced renewed pressure to clear out buildings in the inner city where residents live in unsafe conditions, with little or no services, while occupying the buildings or paying rent to “landlords” who have hijacked the properties.

“We have tried several options to solve the problem of the hijacked buildings, but we always get stuck in legislation,” said city manager Cilliers Brink after the Albert Street fire.

He suggested the city couldn’t act on Joburg’s most dangerous buildings as that would mean evicting residents, legally requiring the municipality to provide adequate alternative accommodation for residents who might otherwise be rendered homeless.

Brink said the city wants to…

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