Ar­son sus­pected in deadly in­ferno

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - KYLIE JAMI­SON AND TOBY NGO­MANE

FOUR fires have bro­ken out over the past four years in the build­ing in the Joburg CBD that was en­gulfed in flames yes­ter­day, leav­ing seven peo­ple dead.

The in­ferno in the derelict build­ing, said to be oc­cu­pied by sex work­ers and drug users, claimed the lives of four peo­ple, in­clud­ing a one-yearold child.

Fire­fight­ers also re­cov­ered the bod­ies of the other oc­cu­pants, who suc­cumbed to smoke in­hala­tion and were de­clared dead on the scene.

An­other seven were rushed to Char­lotte Max­eke Hos­pi­tal, suf­fer­ing from se­vere smoke in­hala­tion and burn in­juries.

Eye­wit­nesses said a fight over a room in the hi­jacked build­ing had led to the deadly blaze.

But it wasn’t the first in­ci­dent of a fa­tal fire at the hi­jacked Cape York Build­ing on the cor­ner of Nugget and Jeppe streets.

Ren­ney Plit, chair­per­son of the Africa Housing Com­pany (Afhco), was an­gered by the loss of life in the in­ferno. Plit filed a R4 mil­lion dam­ages claim against the then own­ers, Banco de Mozam­bique and the City of Joburg, to cover his com­pany’s losses.

He fur­ther de­manded that Banco de Mozam­bique and the City of Joburg clean up the build­ing, as it had be­come a den of in­iq­uity.

Afhco spokesper­son Kevin van den Heever said his or­gan­i­sa­tion had been en­tan­gled in le­gal bat­tles with the stake­hold­ers of the build­ing. “It’s worse than a few years ago. I have been fight­ing a le­gal bat­tle for the past three years,” he said, adding that lit­tle had been done to rec­tify the prob­lem.

The hi­jacked build­ing, now owned by a com­pany called Mark of the Di­vine, which could not be traced, is in a bad state. The in­fra­struc­ture is crum­bling, it is over­crowded and lacks san­i­ta­tion.

The nine-storey build­ing, no­to­ri­ous for drug-traf­fick­ing, has been a great cause for con­cern for Afhco.

Van den Heever said that a year ago, a woman’s body was found among the refuse in the al­ley.

It has also caught the at­ten­tion of Po­lice Min­is­ter Fik­ile Mbalula, who vis­ited hi­jacked build­ings last week, in­clud­ing Cape York. Al­though Cape York has been raided in re­cent years, lit­tle seems to have changed.

A res­i­dent claimed yes­ter­day’s fire was an act of ar­son by an in­di­vid­ual out of spite for not get­ting a room.

Joburg Emer­gency Ser­vices spokesper­son Nana Radebe said the cause was still un­known and was be­ing investigated. She did, how­ever, say the fire was started on the sec­ond floor, where most of the dam­age oc­curred.

Al­though the fire was con­tained on the sec­ond floor, bil­low­ing smoke rapidly spread through­out the build­ing. In the hope of es­cap­ing the flames, one of the build­ing’s oc­cu­pants jumped to their death from the sev­enth floor.

Radebe said the fire de­part­ment res­cued more than 40 res­i­dents from the build­ing.

Busi­ness own­ers along Jeppe and Nugget streets said they heard scream­ing and shout­ing com­ing from the Cape York build­ing.

In the en­su­ing panic, they saw flames pour out of the build­ing’s win­dows and res­i­dents des­per­ately try­ing to flee the burn­ing build­ing. Some used bed­sheets and blan­kets to climb out of the bro­ken win­dows.

Later, res­i­dents were seen go­ing back be­cause they did not have al­ter­na­tive ac­com­mo­da­tion.

PIC­TURE: NOKUTHULA MBATHA

AF­TER­MATH: Seven peo­ple died when a fire broke out in the Cape York build­ing in the Joburg CBD yes­ter­day morn­ing. A body is loaded into a mor­tu­ary van on the scene.

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