New findings indicate that the Usindiso building in Johannesburg which sheltered abused women was overcrowded by over 400 women instead of 50 women, mostly because the owner of the facility left.
During the hearing of the Commission of Inquiry into the deadly fire in Marshalltown, which killed 77 people in 2023, Yandisa Mnqandi told the Commission of Inquiry that many people had been killed inside the building before the fire. He alleges that the police did nothing about it, adding they only work where they benefit.
Andiswa Ndlebu said they had reported the influx to the police but it was not addressed.
“We were less than 50 women living in the shelter before it was abandoned. The owner left without notifying us. We saw the security guards bringing people in, at the time it was only women.
“They were renting the vacant rooms out. Then women who lived there started to rent the rooms out,” Ndlebu said.
The commission which was chaired by former justice Sisi Khampepe, heard on Thursday that the building went from accommodating 50 women to more than 400 people.
Ndlebu said the City of Johannesburg cut the water supply because residents were not paying for water or electricity.
“We ended up using water from a fire extinguisher,” said Ndlebu.
Another respondent, Busisiwe Mhlebi wept as she told the commission of inquiry about waking up after being in hospital for two days and being told her 16-year-old daughter had died.
Musa Hamisi from Tanzania said the blaze killed his eight-months-pregnant girlfriend in the Usindiso building disaster and her body was never found.
One Thobeka Biyela informed the commission that while she didn’t lose a family member in the incident, it hurts that she lost people she once lived with.
“I took my child outside and handed her to my friend and I went back inside to get a bag, I couldn’t take any other belongings,” she said.
Her child inhaled too much smoke and when she tried to get some milk for her, all shops were closed.
“We sat outside and I realised that my boyfriend had gone to look for his brothers. I just sat outside and held my baby. What I heard at the time is that the fire truck came and there was no water. It was painful to see that people we lived with had died, people you shared a place with,” said Biyela.
After being moved to a temporary accommodation at the Denver shacks, life has become distressing.
“We live in shacks, it’s not a good life. We are only women, some of us are alone or live with children, and there is no gate, no security as the ones who were initially posted there left. Some women have to work and come home late.”