‘ANC ward councillor ignored overcrowding at Usindiso building’

An ANC ward councillor has been accused of turning a blind eye to illegal activities taking place at the Usindiso Building in Marshalltown, in the Johannesburg central business district.

Minikasi Babalwa Kasa, a former resident of the building, made this statement during her testimony to the judicial commission of inquiry into the Marshalltown fire.

The commission of inquiry is taking place at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown, Johannesburg.

Kasa alleged that the ward councillor in the area, where the gutted Usindiso Building is situated, did not have a problem with overcrowding and cable theft taking place at the building.

Blame put at the councillor’s door

She said in 2018, the ANC councillor for ward 124, Mongameli Mnyameni, wanted to evict residents of the Usindiso Building and rent it out.

During the proceedings on Monday, the inquiry read out Kasa’s witness statement. Kasa was a resident at the Usindisio Building during the time of the fire.

On August 31 2023, a fire broke out at the Usindiso Building and killed 77 people. The deadly blaze left a total of 88 other people injured.

Vuyelwa Mabena assists Sisi Khampepe, a retired former judge of the Constitutional Court, who is chairing the commission.

Kasa said she started living at the Usindiso Building in December 2017.

Shelter for abused women and children

She said when she arrived at the building, which was providing refuge for abused women and children, it had already closed, and there were 18 other women staying at the building.

She was the 19th woman to move into the building.

Before men and other people started occupying the building, according to her, security from the City of Johannesburg was keeping watch over it.

“When I moved into my room on the first floor in 2017, the condition of the building was fine. The first floor had a flushing toilet, and the taps had hot water,” Kasa said.

“There were communal showers on the first floor as well. Issues started in late 2018. People would steal electricity cables and sell them. There were illegal wire connections throughout the building.

“There was also overcrowding, where five people would live in one room. The ward councillor of ward 124 did not have an issue with what was going on in the building. His name is Mongameli Mnyameni.”

Kasa continued: “Mnyameni came to the building in August 2018 with Sipho Manganyi of the City of Joburg. They asked us why we were still living at the Usindiso Building and not vacating the building.

Plan to rent out the building

‘Thato Kekana [now deceased], who was one of the residents of the building when it was still a shelter, said we would not move out because we knew that the two city officials wanted us to vacate so that they could rent out the building. The two city officials then left.”

Kasa said that on the same day that Mnyameni and Manganyi came to see them, she and other residents went to the offices of the City of Joburg to request assistance in reporting Mnyameni and Manganyi for “attempting to evict us from the building”.

“The representatives of the City of Johannesburg told us that they were not aware of the issue. They told us that they would have an internal meeting with Manganyi to discuss the matter,” said Kasa.

She added that in December 2019, Manganyi returned to the building with officials from City Power, the Joburg Metro Police Department, and the South African Police Service. The city’s officials conducted search operations and cut off electricity.

“We were then informed that the city officials were cutting the electricity supply to the building. We then decided to reconnect the electricity illegally.”

Kasa, who was a part-time cleaner at the time of the fire, said she was at work when the building caught fire.

Proceedings continue on Wednesday

She received a call at 12:45am from a man called Yasin, who was also a resident of the building, informing her that the building was on fire.

According to Kasa, she arrived at the building at 6.30am after finishing her shift at work. She testified that she saw dead bodies upon arrival.

She lost a queen-size bed worth R4 000, a fridge worth R4 000, a TV worth R3 500, a TV stand valued at R2 000, a cupboard amounting to R2 000, a wardrobe worth R2 500, bedding worth R2 000, and cutlery and crockery for which she cannot recall their value.

The proceedings continue on Wednesday, with more testimonies expected from victims of the fire and officials of the City of Joburg.

The inquiry seeks to determine the cause of the fire and the prevalence of hijacked buildings in the Johannesburg CBD.

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