JOHANNESBURG, Sept 2 (Portal) – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Saturday called on authorities to enforce regulations preventing city residents from illegally occupying apartment blocks after a fire at an illegally occupied building in Johannesburg killed dozens of people.
The fire, which killed more than 70 people, highlighted the housing crisis in a city that is among the most unequal in the world and where poverty and unemployment are widespread.
“The local government must enforce the laws,” Ramaphosa said at an event hosted by the ruling African National Congress party.
“That woke us up and I said that our cities and communities now have to pay attention to how people live. While we encourage people to live downtown… we have to do it accordingly with our laws.
The apartment block is owned by the city council, but officials said it had been “raided and kidnapped” by unknown groups.
Government officials said some of the deceased may have been tenants or were extorted by criminal gangs from the so-called “kidnap building” syndicates.
Local officials said efforts to evict residents of illegally occupied buildings are often hampered by court orders stopping the evictions.
Ramaphosa said he had asked government ministers to explore ways to enforce laws without violating people’s rights.
The gutted building is associated with apartheid-era South Africa because it was there that black South Africans picked up their “dompas,” or savings accounts — documents that would allow them to work in white neighborhoods.
Ramaphosa said he picked up his passbook from the building about 50 years ago when he worked in the city.
Reporting by Carien du Plessis; Writing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; Editing by Ros Russell
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