Vote of no confidence given in 2023 Marshalltown fire inquiry

Vote of no confidence given in 2023 Marshalltown fire inquiry. Picture: Itumeleng English African News Agency (ANA)

Vote of no confidence given in 2023 Marshalltown fire inquiry. Picture: Itumeleng English African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jan 20, 2024


Faith that the Commission of Inquiry looking into the Usindiso Building fire, that claimed 76 lives in Marshalltown in 2023, will provide the victims' families and survivors with the much-needed closure they need, is fast disappearing.

As the commission of inquiry into the fire resumed this week, organisations representing some of the victim's families and survivors said they were dismayed at how they were not being taken into consideration by the commission.

Mametlwe Sebei, a member of the Marshalltown Fire Justice campaign, said they were not happy with the manner in which the commission, much like other commissions, had sidelined and failed to consider the families and victims.

Sebei said it was for this reason they had submitted to the commission to urgently provide logistical support in the form of food, transport and accommodation to the group.

He said while some of their demands for assistance had been heeded, they were disheartened to see the manner in which the survivors were being treated.

Sebei said the lack of consideration for the families spoke volumes of the attitude of the political establishments, not only in the City of Johannesburg, but also in the office of the Premier about how they looked at the victims and commissions themselves.

"History has taught us that these commissions are not meant to deliver justice. Instead, they are meant to absolve the political establishments of any responsibility, divert attention and (find) all sorts of scapegoats.

“They use scapegoats in the form of blaming low-level officials, or blaming the migrants for the broader crisis of housing. That is why they do not see the significance of the victims and ensuring that they are centred in the proceedings," he said.

Sebei added that the organisation had no confidence in the commission yielding any fruit; hence, they had initially demanded an independent working class presence within the committee.

"We've had many commissions, (including) the Farlam Commission on Marikana, and the Zondo Commission. If you go to any of the affected people or their families and ask what justice they got from these commissions, they will tell you nothing. All these things do is to confuse issues, find scapegoats and never really shine light on the foundation of the problems,” he said.

Sebei said there was gross criminality and negligence by the City of Johannesburg in keeping track of the administration of inner city buildings.

He believes that there are at least 224 buildings thought to have been hijacked or abandoned in the Johannesburg area.

"We've got to say that the government has failed these people and also question how something as big as a building can be hijacked in broad daylight by criminal syndicates.

“The result is a situation where desperate working class (people) and even students have ended up living in squalor. The picture painted about people staying in these buildings has been completely distorted and is out of touch with reality,” he said.

Led by retired Constitutional Court Justice Sisi Khampepe, the inquiry was launched in October 2023 and missed its first deadline of November 30, the date by which it was supposed to have completed Part A of its investigation, looking into the circumstances leading to the fire and who should be held accountable.

Part B has been reserved to look at the prevalence of hijacked buildings in Johannesburg’s inner city.

Saturday Star