JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Saturday urged authorities to enforce regulations preventing city dwellers from illegally occupying apartment buildings, after dozens were killed in a fire in an illegally occupied Johannesburg building.
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 is plagued by poverty and unemployment.
Ramaphosa said during an event of the ruling African National Congress: “The local government must implement the laws.”
“This gave us a wake-up call, and I said our cities and municipalities should now care about how people live. We encourage people to live within the city…but we need to do it in line with that.” with our laws.”
The apartment building is owned by municipal authorities, but officials said it was “invaded and kidnapped” by unknown groups.
Government officials said some of those who died may have been tenants from criminal gangs or were being extorted by “building hijacking” gangs.
Municipal officials said efforts to evict residents of illegally occupied buildings are often hampered by court orders halting evictions.
Ramaphosa said he had asked government ministers to look into ways to enforce laws without violating people’s rights.
The ruined building is associated with apartheid-era South Africa, where black South Africans collected their “dumbas” or passbook – documents that enabled them to work in white-owned areas of the city.
Ramaphosa said he collected his passbook in the building about 50 years ago, when he worked in the city.
Reporting by Karen Du Plessis. Writing by Olivia Komwenda Mtambo; Edited by Ross Russell
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