Blankets and sheets hang from the windows of the burnt out building in Johannesburg’s inner city, used by residents as they tried to escape Thursday’s blaze in which over 70 people died.
The premises was supposed to be a shelter for abused women and children. Instead, it was home to more than 200 people.
"It is unfortunate that we have to keep responding to situations of this nature where a building is leased for the purpose of rehabilitating society, because it was an NGO that dealt specifically with displaced women,” said Johannesburg mayor, Kabelo Gwamanda.
“However, due to unforeseen circumstances, the building ended up serving a different purpose."
Hundreds of building like this one in the city’s commercial district were abandoned in the late 1990s. Local authorities say many of them were taken over by organised criminal groups.
"There are cartels who prey on poor, vulnerable people. Because some of these buildings, if not most of them, are actually in the hands of those cartels who collect rent from our people," said Lebogang Maile, the provincial government executive responsible for human settlements.
The city says that it raided this particular building in 2019 and a suspect was charged for illegally collecting rent from tenants. The case is still with the police.
It claims that non-governmental organisations are hampering council efforts to deal with the so-called hijacked buildings.
“We are aware of hijacked buildings within the city. We can indicate to you the level of lawlessness, but we can also indicate to you what plans we have in place,” said City Manager, Floyd Brink.
The fire has been condemned by NGOs and political parties alike. President Cyril Ramaphosa, who visited the site on Thursday evening, described it as a “wake-up call” for government to address the housing crisis in the inner city.