WATCH: Living inside a hijacked Hillbrow building

No windows or lights and rats everywhere.

Those living in hijacked buildings in the Joburg CBD and Hillbrow stay in rooms with no windows, ventilation or light. The corridors they walk and socialise on are often flooded with water and other waste, while brazen rats run freely.

These living conditions were thrown into the spotlight on Saturday during City of Joburg MMC for public safety Dr Mgcini Tshwaku’s visit to several hijacked buildings in the area.

Tshwaku visited Florence Nightingale, Casa Mia and the Greenhouse building in the city, highlighting some of the conditions that may have led to similar properties catching fire in recent weeks.

ALSO READ: Panicking Joburg CBD fire victims were ‘squashed against closed gate’

Among these was a blaze at a five-storey building in the city last week that left at least 77 people dead, including a one-year-old and 11 other children, and more than 50 others injured.

‘There are no windows’

“You have a situation where people will stay here but there are no windows. They [residents] are using candles most of the time, and when they are left can cause fire. So during the fire, he cannot get out of here because there are no emergency exits,” Tshwaku said of one room in the Florence Nightingale building visited.

MMC for Housing Anthea Leitch said the city was in the process of refurbishing Casa Mia and had relocated residents when the Covid-19 pandemic struck and the building was hijacked.

“The current occupants have confirmed they are paying rent to someone in the building,” she said, adding the city was investigating it further.

Leitch said occupants were paying rent of between R1,500 and over R3,000, with many residents employed.

ALSO READ: ‘Joburg CBD building turned into informal settlement’ − EMS

She claimed security from the city sent to monitor the building are threatened, and “exits are all closed up”.

‘A gate was closed, so people couldn’t get out’

Speaking in the aftermath of last week’s fire, Tshwaku said the devastation caused by the blaze was made worse by a locked security gate, which led to dozens being crushed to death.

“A gate was closed, so people couldn’t get out. When firefighters came in they saw people who were being smashed against a security gate,” he said.

He said he had never seen such a devastating scene.

Commission of inquiry

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi said he would establish a commission of inquiry, led by retired judge Justice Sisi Khampepe, into what caused the fire.

ALSO READ: Joburg CBD fire: City official slams NGO over hijacked buildings litigation

Religious leaders on Friday slammed government and politicians for using the tragedy for political gain, saying their concern was mere electioneering.

ActionSA said the commission was “another PR stunt by the ever-grandstanding ANC Gauteng chairperson, who tends to use state resources for his gimmicks”.

“ActionSA maintains that it is the state who should directly be held accountable for allowing the breakdown of the rule of law in the Johannesburg inner city. They were aware of the crisis for many years but chose to do nothing, and unless urgent action is taken another disaster is waiting to happen”.

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