Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)

Plea for Ramaphosa to help bury fire victims

- BALDWIN NDABA baldwin.ndaba@il.co.za

A GROUP of Johannesbu­rg volunteers and activists involved in providing relief and support to persons affected by the deadly Johannesbu­rg fire almost two months ago, have appealed to President Cyril Ramaphosa and Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi to help bury the victims.

The group penned a six-page letter to Ramaphosa, Lesufi, the mayor of the City of Johannesbu­rg and government ministers detailing the plight of those who survived the fire.

In the letter, the activists raised concern about the rising levels of xenophobic attacks since rumours spread that most of the residents who lived in the flats were foreigners.

They wrote that 78 individual­s died, while the fire displaced about 500 people (245 households), including children as young as three weeks old.

The victims not only suffered the physical scars of burns and broken legs after jumping out of the building or throwing their children out of windows to save their lives, they have also suffered the loss of as many as six family members in one incident, leaving trauma and unimaginab­le loss.

Expressing their concern about xenophobia, the group said in their letter to Ramaphosa that in the aftermath of the tragedy, certain politician­s hastily labelled the building’s occupants as predominan­tly “illegal immigrants”.

“However, our comprehens­ive assessment reveals that 206 of those who survived were South African citizens, particular­ly from Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Eastern Cape.

“While many victims of the fire were migrants from Malawi, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe, many were also asylum seekers and refugees from these countries, which the South African government should be able to easily confirm.

“It’s essential to correct this misreprese­ntation as it not only skews the narrative but also seems to justify a lack of response,” the group wrote.

They appealed to Ramaphosa and the ministers to intervene urgently and to offer assistance to those who need legal documents to be in the country, including transporti­ng bodies to their places of burial in the KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

“The aftermath of this devastatin­g incident has inflicted immeasurab­le pain and suffering on its victims. Lives have been lost, families shattered, and hope dimmed. We cannot afford inaction,” the activists wrote.

“The government must rise to its duty of care in the face of one of the most significan­t humanitari­an crises in our country’s recent history.

“To do nothing is to accept the further loss of lives, the deteriorat­ion of victims’ health, and the continued trauma that threatens to forever scar their lives,” the activists wrote.

They also said that the Hofland Park Recreation Centre, meant to be a temporary shelter, was now a symbol of despair.

Overcrowde­d, unsanitary, and lacking basic necessitie­s, it fell far short of providing the dignified support these victims deserved. The government’s declaratio­n of a state of disaster was a critical step, one that must trigger an immediate and comprehens­ive response.

“We call upon the Presidency of the Republic of South Africa and the relevant ministries to act swiftly. Address the urgent issues outlined in this memo – the documentat­ion crisis, housing conditions, access to medical care, and the desperate need for support for those who have lost loved ones,” the activists wrote.

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