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City fire survivors struggling to rebuild lives

‘I can’t find work without my passport, tools’

Koena Mashale Journalist
Fire survivor Peter Mbwambo at Bez Valley Recreation Centre, where some of the former residents of Usindiso Building in Marshalltown were taken after the fire.
Fire survivor Peter Mbwambo at Bez Valley Recreation Centre, where some of the former residents of Usindiso Building in Marshalltown were taken after the fire.
Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE

Survivors of the tragic fire in Marshalltown, Johannesburg, say authorities have forgotten about them.

The families are being accommodated at a recreational centre in Bezuidenhout Valley, Johannesburg. 

More than 70 people died in a fire on August 31 and many were displaced.

Spokesperson for the commission of inquiry into Usindiso Building Thulani Makhubela said the death toll was 76 and not 77 as one person was counted twice due to a missing limb that was found in the building.

Survivor Peter Mbwambo, who worked as an electrician before the tragedy, said he was struggling to rebuild his life. 

“I lost everything. My clothes, money, passport and even my tools that helped me with my job and now I don’t even know what to do. I don’t have anything but the clothes that were donated to me. I ran out of that building [on the day of the fire] wearing only boxers.”

Chairman of the commission justice Sisi Khampepe.
Chairman of the commission justice Sisi Khampepe.
Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE

Mbwambo said he struggled to find a job due to the lack of documents. 

“I can’t find work without my passport or other documents. I worked as an electrician, fixing stoves, everything like that but because I lost my tools in the fire, I can’t work anymore,” he said. 

Another survivor who wanted to remain anonymous said“We are not given food and the kitchen is broken. When there’s no food, there’s no food and we have to rely on the next NGO [non-governmental organisation] to delivers some food stuffs,” she said. 

She said the government had promised to find them the right place to live and move them but there hasn’t been any further communication. 

“The children don’t go to school and we are always here, just waiting, but there has been no communication from the government or officials since two weeks after the fire. We don’t know anything. I have kids who are trying to find a job but we lost everything in the fire and we don’t have our documentation, so they are struggling to find jobs” she said. 

The commission briefed media, saying it would commence with its work on October 26.

Chairperson justice Sisi Khampepe said: “The procurement of services, as you know, within government is an issue that takes some time, and we as a commission have not been an exception to that phenomenon.

“The commission has lost almost three weeks. Because of that, it seems inevitable we will have to request an extension of time within which to complete our work,” Khampepe said. 

Khampepe said evidence leaders had already spoken to three witnesses in the first week of investigations but that more witnesses would be called.

The commission will also look into building hijackings in the city. 

mashalek@sowetan.co.za


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