Statement: The Government must develop a comprehensive urban renewal plan for the inner city, including the rehabilitation of hijacked buildings!

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Emergency worker at the scene of a Johannesburg CBD fire that claimed at least 73 lives. Picture: Reuters

Cry of the Xcluded extends its heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of the people who died in a fire that broke out in a Marshalltown building in the early hours of Thursday morning. The fire in a five-story ‘hijacked’ building claimed 73 lives and injured more than 50 others.

As Cry of the Xcluded, we urge the government to address the pressing issue that has plagued the heart of Johannesburg for far too long – the problem of homelessness and hijacked buildings in the inner city.

This issue has far-reaching consequences, affecting not only the individuals living in these buildings but also the broader community and the city as a whole. We must come together to find effective and sustainable solutions to address this problem. This problem is multifaceted, involving issues such as poverty, unemployment, urban decay, and a lack of affordable housing. To address this problem effectively, we must take a holistic approach.

In the meantime, we call on the government to provide temporary shelter and support services for individuals affected by the fire. City officials must collaborate with NGOs and charities to address the immediate humanitarian concerns of vulnerable individuals. The Department of Social Services must offer counselling and mental health services to those in need including addiction rehabilitation programs as it was alleged that the building was used as a drug den.

As we have said before, the government’s austerity agenda is negatively impacting South Africans. Budget cuts to welfare, health, education, police and all the services that poor people depend on, have created a wasteland. Our country is not just collapsing, it is hurtling towards the cliff face hence some people especially the youth are turning to drugs as a coping mechanism. Over 13 million people are not economically active, a staggering figure that mirrors the country’s unemployment crisis. High levels of unemployment exacerbate existing disparities and create social divisions leading to negative social and economic consequences, such as increased poverty, crime rates, and social unrest.

It is deeply disappointing to hear politicians throwing NGOs like SERI under the bus instead of taking full responsibility for failing to deliver on their promise of a better life for all. Neoliberal policies and systematic corruption are crippling the country and ordinary South Africans are suffering.

One of the root causes of hijacked buildings is the lack of affordable housing options. The government, in collaboration with various stakeholders, should initiate affordable housing projects to meet the demand of low-income residents. These initiatives can provide alternatives to living in hijacked buildings.

Homelessness not only threatens the safety and well-being of fellow citizens but also undermines the potential for growth and development that the city desperately needs. Instead of using NGOs as a scapegoat, the government must look at addressing this.

We believe that addressing the issue of hijacked buildings in Johannesburg’s inner city requires a holistic approach that combines law enforcement, social support, urban renewal, legal reforms, community engagement, and public advocacy. It is a complex issue that cannot be solved overnight, but with concerted efforts from the government, civil society, property owners, and the community, we can begin to reclaim these spaces and revitalize the city.

Issued by the Cry of the Xcluded
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Matthews Hlabane on 082 707 9860

The Cry of the Xcluded was launched by the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and the Assembly of the Unemployed (AoU) on 12 February 2020 to unite the working class – employed and unemployed – in the struggle for jobs, services, and dignity.