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Tragic Fire In Johannesburg Highlights Housing Crisis

Many buildings in the centre of the South African city of Johannesburg, where a horrific fire has killed more than 70 people, are deemed unfit to live in. Yet these old blocks, abandoned by their owners or the city authorities, are full of families often paying rent to criminal gangs who run them. The buildings, which lack running water, toilets or a legal electricity connection, are then said to have been “hijacked”. Scores of people often live in one room, often former offices. Fires are common – though nothing on the scale of the one that went up in flames overnight. Yet as derelict buildings proliferated – some owned by the council and tied up in legal wrangles – criminal syndicates spotted an opening to make money, further exploiting those desperate for accommodation. The rent can be fairly high – but these kind of landlords overlook a bad credit history or the fact that the tenants have no official documents. One person who escaped the recent inferno told the BBC the fire had started during a power cut – which happen frequently throughout the country. She said the cut in the electricity supply triggered a bunch of gunshot-like sounds followed by a massive explosion.