Archbishop Thabo Makgoba has pleaded with city authorities across the country to urgently conduct fire and sanitation inspections at informally occupied buildings to avoid a repeat of the inferno that killed more than 70 people in central Johannesburg.
Makgoba, speaking at a church service for Anglican schools in Cape Town on Sunday, described last week’s fire in Albert Street and the recent explosion in Lilian Ngoyi Street, both in the Johannesburg CBD, as “ examples of the rot that has infested parts of our beloved country”.
“I grew up in Johannesburg, commuted through the city as a schoolboy and lived and worked in city centre parishes 30 years ago. Just a few weeks ago I visited the site of the explosion in Lilian Ngoyi Street, and was heartbroken to see the deterioration that has devastated a city I love,” he said.
“Now this week we have seen more than 70 people dying in that terrible fire, also in the city centre. Those of us who grew up in Johannesburg under apartheid knew the building that caught fire, 80 Albert Street, as the Johannesburg pass office, where, at the thump of a stamp in your ‘dompas’, you were either allowed to stay in the city or were endorsed to try to eke out a living in your rural Bantusan. It is deeply distressing to see one kind of suffering in that building be replaced by another kind under democracy.”
Makgoba said the situation needed to be addressed urgently, and as immediate first steps “the authorities need at the very least to send fire and sanitation inspectors this coming week into other similar buildings in Johannesburg, Durban and other cities and towns where the same thing is happening.
“If they are not already doing so, the legal NGOs fighting for the rights of people to stay in those buildings must get court orders requiring local governments to enforce fire and hygiene bylaws.”