Lack of Proper Housing in Johannesburg: A Dangerous Reality for Many

The recent horrific fire in Johannesburg that claimed the lives of more than 70 people has shed light on the issue of hijacked buildings in the city. Many buildings in the city center, abandoned by their owners or the authorities, are deemed unfit for living. However, these buildings are filled with families who are often forced to pay rent to criminal gangs who control them. These hijacked buildings lack basic amenities such as running water, proper sanitation, and legal electricity connections. People living in these buildings are at high risk of fires due to the combustible nature of their living conditions.

One firefighter at the scene of the recent fire described the building as having shack-like structures inside, further increasing the fire hazard. Many residents of these buildings use paraffin stoves for cooking and rely on makeshift heating methods during the cold winter months. Unsanitary conditions are also prevalent, with faeces often found in the corridors and even on the pavement. The occupants of these buildings are a mix of poor South Africans and undocumented migrants from across Africa.

Johannesburg’s city center, also known as the Central Business District (CBD), has become a dangerous place due to high levels of crime. Businesses have gradually moved out of the CBD since the end of white-minority rule in 1994, leaving behind old commercial buildings that were converted into low-rent apartments. The city’s housing shortage, a legacy of apartheid, has contributed to the influx of people into these buildings.

Efforts to rejuvenate the CBD have been ongoing for over a decade, with authorities declaring buildings unfit for habitation and rehousing some residents through legal processes. However, the proliferation of derelict buildings, including those owned by the council, has created an opportunity for criminal syndicates to exploit those in desperate need of housing. These landlords overlook credit history and the lack of official documents, further trapping occupants in a cycle of poverty and vulnerability.

Living in a hijacked building is a tough existence, with drugs and addiction being common issues. Outsiders who venture into these buildings are also at risk. Despite the challenging conditions, residents see the abandoned buildings as providing shelter and a glimmer of hope for a better future.

The recent fire tragedy in Johannesburg highlights the urgent need for proper housing and solutions to address the city’s housing shortage. The South African government, along with relevant authorities, must prioritize finding sustainable and safe housing options for those currently living in hijacked buildings. The situation calls for a comprehensive approach that takes into account the socioeconomic factors contributing to this issue.

Efforts should also be made to crack down on criminal syndicates exploiting vulnerable individuals and ensuring that property owners meet their legal obligations. Providing support and resources for drug addiction and mental health issues within these communities is crucial for creating a safer and healthier living environment.

It is essential to recognize that the lack of proper housing is not only a problem in Johannesburg but also a reflection of the broader socioeconomic inequalities in South Africa. Addressing the systemic issues that perpetuate these inequalities will require collaborative efforts from government, civil society, and the private sector.

Only by prioritizing the housing needs of the most vulnerable can South Africa begin to break the cycle of poverty and provide its citizens with a safe and dignified place to call home.