1 September 2023

The Johannesburg City Fire:

A manifestation of South Africa’s incompetent leadership


This is what the LORD says: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

 Jeremiah 31:15


The tragic and preventable loss of life in downtown Johannesburg cries out to the heavens for justice. How much longer will South Africa witness the loss of human life because of the failure of leadership on both the local and national levels?


The disastrous fire, which has so far claimed the lives of more than 70 people, including children, is yet another manifestation of South Africa’s incompetent leadership.


The Jesuit Institute South Africa expresses our condolences to and solidarity with all those who mourn their loved ones and the loss of all their possessions. We also thank all those men and women from the emergency services who risked their lives to help save fellow human beings in the blaze.


While the political classes wage war on each other, greedily seeking power and control in the Johannesburg Metro, ordinary citizens’ lives are at risk. Failing infrastructure, the lack of political will to enforce the rule of law and the downright neglect of basic services are all symptomatic of self-aggrandisement, corruption, and incompetence. Poor leadership, as we have witnessed, leads to death.


The shocking statement by the Minister in the Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni – that it is not government’s responsibility to provide housing for illegal immigrants, is another manifestation of the fact that the South African leadership is so self-absorbed that we have become inhumane. She forgets how activists fleeing South Africa relied on the kindness of others to house them. Sadly, tragedies like this reveal that South Africa no longer upholds or promotes basic human rights and dignity.


It is even more disgusting that politicians use such a tragedy to grandstand. Playing the “blame game” when people are traumatised and shocked is reprehensible. The City of Johannesburg has blamed foreign nationals and NGOs for the fire despite mounting evidence that City management has failed repeatedly to deal with the problem of hijacked buildings.


Woefully, there is little hope that there will be any consequences for those who have failed the vulnerable and those experiencing dire poverty. There is no track record of rogue elements and politicians being held accountable. There will only be law and order once those in leadership commit to obeying the law themselves and ensuring others do the same.


The Jesuit Institute urges the City of Johannesburg to ensure this kind of tragedy does not happen again. The City needs to urgently ensure that hijacked buildings are reclaimed humanely, and that those responsible for managing these buildings and collecting rent are brought to book.


Furthermore, we urge politicians to take responsibility for their failure to lead and for allowing such a catastrophe to happen. Stop the blame game!


We also urge the Minister in the Presidency to publicly apologise for her undignified and callous remarks on national television.


Finally, the Jesuit Institute invites all men and women of goodwill to assist wherever possible. We thank all those who have already in various ways, come to the aid of the victims of this tragedy.




For more information:


Fr Russell Pollitt, SJ


+27 82 737 2054

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