‘Coalition failures at heart of Joburg fire tragedy’

By Everson Luhanga

An ANC councillor responsible for the Marshalltown area of Johannesburg is blaming everyone but himself and his party for the tragic fire that killed 77 people in the Usindiso building last year.

Even though the fire happened with the ANC-led coalition in charge of the city, Ward 124 councillor Mngameli Mnyameni is blaming former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba for the tragedy.

He also blamed the former MMC for Health and Social Development, Dr Mpho Phalatse, who had previously served as the city’s first-ever female mayor from October 2022 until January 2023.

Mashaba, president of ActionSA, was mayor from 2016 to 2019.

Mnyameni told Justice Sisi Khampepe’s commission, which is investigating the Usindiso fire, that he raised the unsafe conditions of the building with Mashaba’s mayoral administration in 2017. 

“I told them face-to-face during a walkabout in the area, especially about the Usindiso building’s decay.

“Then-mayor Mashaba acknowledged that the place was not safe for people to live in. But they didn’t do anything about it and soon Mashaba resigned as mayor and his mayoral committee was dissolved,” he said. 

Mnyameni said since then, the city has been unstable with many different administrations coming into power and then being dissolved because of the political instabilities associated with coalition governance.

“They had the powers and the time, but nothing was done to move the people out of the rundown building,” he told the commission. 

Mashaba told Scrolla.Africa he did everything to save the city, including the people living in the Usindiso building. 

“During my time as mayor, we saved 154 hijacked buildings that were approved by the council to be renovated. However, the ANC-led government turned a blind eye to this [initiative] and called it the Herman Mashaba project,” he said.

“If there is anyone to be blamed for the Usindiso building tragedy, it should be the ANC who were in breach of the council outcome to have the buildings renovated.”

Mashaba said efforts to save the building from those who had hijacked it were blocked by the ruling party.

Phalatse told Scrolla.Africa that when she was the MMC for Health and Social Development, at the time Mashaba was mayor, they closed down the 80 Albert Street Clinic which was at the Usindiso building.

“We closed it down because of unsafe conditions. The building was handed over to Johannesburg Property Company (JPC) to work with the Johannesburg Social Housing Company to see to the eviction and placement of occupants, as well as the rehabilitation of the building. 

“JPC did not do this, resulting in the fire you’re referring to. My jurisdiction ended with my portfolio,” said Phalatse.

When cross-examined and asked by advocate Ishmael Semenya about what he (the councillor) has done in the seven years that he has been in office, Mngameli admitted that the last time he visited the Usindiso building was in 2019 and he has never seen shacks being built inside the building. 

Pictured above: Mngameli Mnyameni (right) testifying at the commission. 

Image source: Everson Luhanga


Recent articles