The African Commission expresses its deep sorrow over the tragedy from the Johannesburg Building Fire


The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (the African Commission), through its Country Rapporteur for the Republic of South Africa – Honourable Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso, expresses its sincere condolences to the victims and families of the tragic fire incident in a multi-storey building in the city of Johannesburg, South Africa, that took place in the early hours of Thursday 31 August 2023.

The African Commission is deeply saddened by the reported regrettable loss of the lives of 73 people including 12 children and the bodily injury of over 55 people, in what is said to be one of the deadliest fire incidents in the country. 

The African Commission sadly learnt that the fire incident took place in an abandoned and derelict building lacking emergency exits and amenities like water, that was occupied out of desperation by homeless persons. In this context, the African Commission echoes the South African Human Rights Commission statement that the tragedy is ‘a sad reminder that, in many instances, particularly in Johannesburg, many of those who are unsuccessful in securing housing, resort to residing in ‘hijacked and abandoned buildings’ which are often characterised by deplorable and inhumane living conditions.’ The African Commission therefore cautions against pronouncements that put exclusive blame on migrants and other vulnerable groups for this tragedy and thereby expose such groups to human rights abuses. 

The African Commission recognizes the enormity of the housing challenges in South Africa due to historical and continuing spatial and social inequities as well as demographic pressure from internal and external migration, and in this regard commends South Africa for the measures being taken to address these challenges. At the same time, the African Commission is mindful of the regulatory authority of the Government of South Africa to monitor and adopt appropriate measures for the safety of buildings taken over by informal settlements. 

The African Commission reminds States Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter) that its Resolution 231 of 2012 on the right to adequate housing and protection from forced evictions urges all States Parties to the African Charter, to take appropriate steps to ensure the respect, protection and realisation of the right to adequate housing, and guarantee inter alia that all alternative housing measures comply with applicable international and regional standards

In the light of the foregoing, the African Commission would like to call on the Government of South Africa to:

1)Initiate prompt and independent investigation into the circumstances that led to this tragedy and hold those responsible accountable;
2)In the light of the existence of similar living conditions, to take relevant steps to prevent the recurrence of such tragedy; 
3)Provide adequate support for the victims of the fire incident, including assistance to the families of the deceased; 
4)Take relevant measures to ensure compliance of domestic legislation with international and regional standards on the right to adequate housing; and
5)Adopt steps to guarantee effective implementation of the housing legislations in South Africa, including the effective regulation of alternative accommodation in situations of homelessness.

The African Commission takes this opportunity to renew its commitment to supporting the efforts of the Government of South Africa in guaranteeing the socio-economic rights of its citizens, as well as all other rights enshrined within the African Charter, and once more expresses sincere condolences to the victims and families of Thursday’s tragic fire incident.

4th September 2023

Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso
Country Rapporteur for the Republic of South Africa