Marshalltown fire: survivors say fire trucks arrived with no water

Survivors of the Marshalltown building fire said the City of Johannesburg emergency management services (EMS) firefighters came with trucks that had no water. 

Tanzanian national Omari Hanya testified at during the judicial commission of inquiry into the fire incident on Friday. He said when the EMS arrived at the scene of the fire they had to connect their equipment to the building’s water supply system. The same building that was engulfed with the raging fire.

The August 31, 2023, a fire broke out at the Usindiso Building in Marshalltown, Johannesburg, claimed 77 lives. A total of 86 people were injured.

More oral testimonies

On Friday, the commission of inquiry resumed with more oral testimony from the survivors of the fire. The proceedings are taking place at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown, Johannesburg. Retired former Constitutional Court judge, Sisi Khampepe, chairs the commission. Another commissioner is Vuyelwa Mathida Mabena.

Hanya is represented by Kgaogelo Maponya, who is on brief by Norton Rose Fulbright law firm.

Maponya is leading the evidence of witnesses form the Johannesburg Fire Victims Support Group. He said he will be leading the evidence of four witnesses.

During the proceedings, Hanya said he started living at the Usindiso Building in 2017. He lived alone on the second floor, and was asleep when the fire started.

Firefighter trucks had no water

“I heard a lot of noise. There was a lot of smoke, and I was coughing. People were making noise, knocking on doors, and waking people up. Afterwards, I woke up and realised that the heat [of the fire] was coming up. I went to the third floor and found people using the back steps on the third floor to get out of the building. I was able to get out from there.

“When we were outside, people called the ambulance and fire fighters. The fire fighters arrived very late. They came 45 minutes after the fire started and they did not even have water. They tried to connect their equipment to the water system of the building,” said Hanya.

Hanya said after the fire he lost his stock, which included cigarettes, fruits, his cell phone, microwave, and fridge.  

Another witness, Qinisile Dladla, said the city’s fire fighters arrived late at the scene of the fire. This was despite being called immediately when the fire started. 

More lives could have been saved

“I was disappointed in the fire fighters. They arrived late and their trucks did not have any water. Maybe if they arrived on time a lot of people would have been saved,” said Dladla. 

Dladla said she sustained injuries during the fire when she jumped from the balcony to the ground of the reception area.

She said she started living at the Usindiso Building in April 2022, and lived alone on the fourth floor.

“On the day of the fire, there was load shedding at 6pm. I waited for the power to be restored because I had a few things to do. I waited until 12 midnight and there was no power restored. Around 1am I heard glass shattering in the building. I thought the noise was from a lady who lived opposite my room. Because she used to drink a lot and cause commotion.

“When I opened my door, I saw black smoke and flames on the passage. I immediately went back to my room, closed the door, and locked myself inside. I started crying,” said Dladla.

Jumped off the balcony

She said she used one of her room windows, which had broken burglar bars, to jump onto the balcony.

Dladla said when she reached the balcony she jumped onto the floor of the reception, sustaining injuries in the process.

“I had injuries on my head, knees and I could not walk properly. It took me two weeks [after the fire] to walk properly again,” said Dladla, while crying and holding a tissue in hand.

The commission is listening to evidence from the third witness of the day Sithowakhe Zungu.

Seeking cause of fire, resolution to inner city buildings

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

It is expected to make a ruling and recommendations on who should shoulder the blame for the deaths, injuries, and homelessness of the victims of the incident.

Seventy-seven people, including 12 children, were killed in the fire, while 86 other people were injured.

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