Johannesburg fire: Inside a 'hijacked' South African building - BBC News
Johannesburg fire disaster: why eradicating hijacked buildings is not the answer
Johannesburg's Ponte City: 'the tallest and grandest urban slum in the world' – a history of cities in 50 buildings, day 33 | Cities | The Guardian
What are the main reasons behind the prevalence of hijacked buildings in Johannesburg?
The prevalence of hijacked buildings in Johannesburg can be attributed to several main reasons. Firstly, the exclusion from formal rental markets and displacement due to urban regeneration have pushed marginalized populations to the fringes of society, leading to the rise in illegal occupations. These hijacked buildings provide spaces of refuge and sociality for those who have been marginalized. Secondly, the lack of government intervention and support creates an environment where gangs can take advantage of vulnerable populations and rent out these buildings illegally. The government’s failure to provide affordable and habitable housing contributes to the prevalence of hijacked buildings as people are forced to seek shelter wherever they can. Lastly, the systemic failures in ensuring safe living environments, including inadequate fire safety measures and lack of infrastructure, increase the risks associated with hijacked buildings.
How can the government effectively address the issue of unsafe living conditions in both formal and informal buildings?
To effectively address the issue of unsafe living conditions in both formal and informal buildings, the government needs to take several steps. Firstly, they should prioritize the provision of affordable and habitable housing for all residents, particularly the most vulnerable populations. This includes addressing the root causes of the housing crisis, such as exclusion from formal rental markets and displacement due to regeneration. Additionally, the government should enforce stricter regulations and standards for all buildings, ensuring that they meet safety requirements and have adequate fire suppression systems. This includes both formal buildings and informal settlements. The government should also invest in infrastructure development, including the creation of fire breaks and the improvement of water and electricity supply in informal settlements. Lastly, government officials and politicians should refrain from scapegoating immigrant populations and instead focus on addressing the structural conditions that perpetuate unsafe living conditions.
What role can society play in ensuring the safety and well-being of vulnerable populations in cities like Johannesburg?
Society plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety and well-being of vulnerable populations in cities like Johannesburg. Firstly, society can support and advocate for alternative accommodation for residents of informal settlements, ensuring that they have access to safe and habitable housing. This can include volunteering, donating resources, or supporting organizations working towards this goal. Secondly, society can raise awareness about the issue of unsafe living conditions and the prevalence of hijacked buildings, putting pressure on the government to take action. This can be done through various means, such as social media campaigns, protests, and engaging with local communities. Finally, society can contribute to creating safer environments by promoting fire safety education and assisting in the enforcement of fire regulations. This can involve organizing workshops, distributing fire safety materials, and supporting initiatives that aim to improve safety standards in buildings.
In the bustling city of Johannesburg, hijacked buildings have become a rampant issue, plaguing the lives of its inhabitants. These buildings, illegally occupied and rented out by gangs, have become centers of crime and peril. Recently, a devastating fire broke out in one such building, resulting in the tragic deaths of at least 76 people.
The building, which had been hijacked and illegally rented out, was a ticking time bomb. Gangs took advantage of vulnerable populations, offering them shelter in exchange for exorbitant rent. The conditions inside these hijacked buildings are deplorable, as we discovered when gaining access to one with the help of the BBC. The lack of maintenance, sanitation, and safety measures puts the lives of its occupants at constant risk.
But the issue of hijacked buildings in Johannesburg extends far beyond this single incident. Ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2011 and 2019 sheds light on the widespread nature of this problem. These spaces, often referred to as 'hijacked buildings,' 'bad buildings,' or 'dark buildings,' have become spaces of refuge, intimacy, and sociality for marginalized populations. The exclusion from formal rental markets and displacement due to urban regeneration contribute to the rise in these illegal occupations.
The concept of the 'city otherwise' emerges in these hijacked buildings, as they become spaces of emergence and potentiality for those who have been pushed to the fringes of society. However, the juridical condition of 'the deferred emergency' in temporary emergency accommodation underscores the dire need for government intervention and support.
While the blame for the fire in the hijacked building is placed on the gangs and their illegal operations, it is crucial to recognize that fires are not limited to these buildings alone. Legally occupied buildings and shack settlements also bear the brunt of these devastating incidents. Inadequate fire safety measures, such as insufficient water pressure and the absence of fire suppression systems, create a hazardous environment for all residents.
It is naive to believe that eradicating hijacked buildings would solve the problem of fire safety failures in legally occupied buildings. The risk of fire extends beyond the presence of hijacked buildings and affects low-income groups across the city. Over 10% of households in Johannesburg live in informal dwellings, which are particularly prone to fires due to construction materials and risky sources of energy.
The response to these fires and the overall living conditions of the city's most vulnerable population is disheartening. Instead of addressing the root causes and providing habitable housing, politicians and city officials tend to divert attention by blaming immigrant populations, calling for mass deportations, and ignoring the systemic failures in ensuring safe living environments.
The disposability of the lives of the poor is evident in the lack of efforts to improve living conditions and protect them from harm. It is imperative that the government takes responsibility and provides adequate housing, addresses the structural conditions that perpetuate these issues, and enforces fire regulations in both formal and informal buildings.
The journey towards safer living environments involves society as a whole. Society should care for vulnerable people through various measures, including the provision of support and alternative accommodation for residents of informal settlements, the creation of fire breaks and infrastructure to reduce risks, and the enforcement of fire regulations.
In the face of these challenges, it is essential to remember that these events are not isolated incidents but symptoms of a broader issue. Johannesburg, like many cities around the world, grapples with the complexities of urban poverty, displacement, and inequality. By tackling the root causes and working towards inclusive and sustainable urban development, we can create a city where all its residents can thrive.