Marshalltown tragedy caused by indifference

Marshalltown tragedy caused by indifference

If we evaluate the five-storey building fire tragedy that occurred in Marshalltown, Johannesburg, on Thursday, in isolation of other factors, we are likely to miss the central point to the question that ought to be asked: why did such a
tragedy happen?

Tragedies do not just happen. Like other accidents, they are caused either by negligence or lack of attention to small or big details, or more seriously, by pure indifference.

At the time of going to print, more than 70 people had died, burnt to death at the building we understand is owned by the Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality. The municipality’s governance, like many other councils in the country, has been largely dysfunctional and mismanaged – and has shown great indifference to issues of governance.

First, there is no cogent explanation why the building was hijacked by illegal foreign nationals – the absurdity of a government entity giving refuge to illegal immigrants. The government officials, the executive mayor of the metro and his MMC colleagues, and other Gauteng government senior officials, were incoherent as they tried to explain why such a tragedy could have occurred.

Second, if what we hear is true that the municipality owns property, the question is was the building adequately supervised? That question, and the coherent response to it, is crucial to understanding the extent of the neglect shown by the elected officials running the affairs of the Johannesburg Metro.

The fact that we allowed illegal foreign nationals to take charge of a facility owned by the metro is silly and a gross sign of a dereliction of duty on the part of the
Johannesburg local government.

Third, the matter would be comical, and a source of laughter, had the consequences not been so tragic.

That, in a building owned by the municipality, hijackers, who are said to be of foreign origin, could find ample time to erect informal structures, shacks, is a further confirmation of a leadership that sleeps on the job, scarcely concerned, or bothered, about the upkeep and first-rate maintenance of the government property entrusted to their care.

Day by day the country wakes up to perennial reports of bruising fights taking place in chambers among councillors of different political parties. Countless votes of no-confidences are mounted against this or that councillor, demanding they vacate office because of non-performance, or something to that effect.

What is the value of these ugly spats in the chambers, when we continue to see such serious lapses of governance, especially as manifested by the burning down of buildings owned by the council?

What, in the first place, do mayors and their MMC executive do? Do they not delegate their underlings to check out what is happening to properties that the councils own?

Now many people have lost their lives.

Councillors and MMC can obfuscate as much as they choose and shift the blame onto others for their own misdoings, but nothing will remove the stench that they have been caught sleeping on the job – that they lack the competence to serve the people who elected them to serve them in high office of local government.

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