As South Africans come to terms with the deaths in the wake of the devastating apartment fire in Marshalltown last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for a review of laws and policies to address the housing development challenges in Johannesburg’s central business district.
The fire claimed the lives of more than 70 people, some of whom were children and many of whom were undocumented migrants.
In his weekly letter to the nation, Ramaphosa expressed his dismay at the calamity brought on by the tragedy by questioning the rationale behind having nearly 200 people occupying a building that was not built for housing and which had no services, thereby rendering it unsafe.
He has also alluded to the notion that laws and regulations designed to protect tenants from arbitrary eviction have been used by unscrupulous individuals and criminal landlords to prey on poor and vulnerable people.
“The tragedy has brought to the fore the need to resolve the challenge of housing in our cities. Even though millions of houses have been built since the advent of democracy, providing decent homes for over 14-million people, the demand for housing continues to grow. The movement of large numbers of people into our major centres is fueling the growth of informal settlements and placing further strain on infrastructure and services,” said Ramaphosa.
The President has urged property developers and the State, as owners and landlords of inner-city buildings in Johannesburg, to be held accountable for allowing many buildings to fall into abandonment and ruin.
Ramaphosa also identified the need to deal decisively with illegal immigration to ensure that those who have a legal right to be in the country are protected from exploitative practices.
He added that greater cooperation was needed between municipal officers and inner-city property developers as a way of mitigating criminality and he hoped that these buildings could eventually provide safe and decent low-cost housing for the poor.
“We need to obey the law and observe regulations that exist for our safety and for the safety of others. We need to work with officials seeking to strike a balance between the rights of tenants and regard for their safety and wellbeing. Above all, we need to report acts of criminality and not be party to them,” Ramaphosa said.