No Nigerian has died following the August 31 fire that gutted an abandoned municipal building in Johannesburg, South Africa that reportedly claimed over 70 lives, including 12 children so far.
The incident, according to reports, also left more than 50 people with various degrees of injuries, with the country’s emergency officials warning the death toll may increase, the Nigeria Union South Africa (NUSA) said in a statement on Thursday.
The statement by Mr Habib Miller, National Publicity Secretary of NUSA), said the cause of the ignition had not been ascertained as at the time of issuing the press release but noted that the fire started in the wee hours of that day.
Miller said that the President of NUSA, Mrs Doris Ikeri-Solarin, had advised Nigerians in that country to avoid inhabiting notorious places, especially black spots such as the abandoned building that was razed by fire.
She also warned of the dangers inherent in not abiding by the laws of their host country, appealing that they should be good ambassadors of Nigeria.
Miller said that Mr Trust Owoyele, the Treasurer of NUSA, had visited the site of the incident twice and confirmed that no Nigerian was affected.
“We are deeply dismayed by the loss of lives that resulted from this incident. Our hearts goes out to the families and friends of those affected. May God grant them the fortitude to bear the monumental losses,’’ it quoted Oyewole as saying.
He recalled that, however, a survivor who gave her name simply as Elise, had in an interview with eNCA news, said she was awakened by her son.
Her offspring had queried her habit of always locking the door before bedtime and she responded that it was due to how dangerous it was not to do so in an environment notorious for criminal activities.
Elise further recounted that she suddenly saw smoke that emanated from the fire while conversing with her son and hurriedly grabbed her little baby and escaped the building unscathed, the statement added.
Other occupants of the property were not as lucky as the exit routes were locked, thereby preventing emergency egresses, she said, adding that the incident started around 1.30 a.m. when many people were expected to be fast asleep.
Hence, it may have affected their chances of fleeing, noting that some victims who jumped out from the five story building when the chaos began landed on their heads and passed away.
The statement added that officials had said some of the casualties had been burnt beyond recognition.
It further noted that Elise said she had four children and aside from the toddler in her hands, she wasn’t sure about the whereabouts of her remaining children.
There had also been similar reports from other survivors who managed to escape and could not find their friends and family members, it said.
The structure in question, located at 80 Albert Street was once used by the white minority as an office for issuing “Dompas’’ (documents that controls movement of Blacks in the segregated city) during the apartheid regime.
After South Africa became a democratic nation in 1994, it transitioned to a refuge for abused women and children and afterwards became a “hijacked building’’ in 2019 when it was also last reported inspected.
When a structure is hijacked, it is usually controlled by cartels who in turn impose “rents’’ on vulnerable hobos.
Johannesburg is the richest city in Africa, but like other major metropolises across the globe, it is not devoid of challenges, the issue of abandoned structures turned criminal hotbeds is one of its shortcomings.
There are cases when victims of robbery or theft approach gangsters in such apartment buildings in a bid to recover their stolen or missing valuables by bribing negotiators.
This is not the first time an abandoned structure has gone up in flames but this occurrence has been described as the worst of its kind in the history of South Africa.