A fire that engulfed a five-storey building killed more than 70 people including children in central Johannesburg on Thursday, the South African city’s emergency services said.
At least seven children were among those killed by the flames, in what is on track to become one of the deadliest fires worldwide in recent years.
The youngest victim was less than two years old, he said. Some were left burned beyond recognition.
Firefighters at the scene have put out the flames and are “busy with damping down”, while search and recovery operations are ongoing, Mulaudzi said.
“We are moving floor by floor conducting these body recoveries,” he told local broadcaster ENCA.
An AFP reporter at the scene said emergency services were continuing to bring charred bodies out of the building, laying them down under blankets and sheets on the street outside.
“It is indeed a sad day for the city of Johannesburg… over 20 years in the service, I’ve never come across something like this,” Mulaudzi said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze, which broke out overnight.
A member of the city’s mayoral committee in charge of public safety, Mgcini Tshwaku, said candles used for lighting inside the structure were a likely cause.
– Security gate closed –
The building, which has been evacuated, is located in a deprived area of what used to be the business district of South Africa’s economic hub and was used as an informal settlement, Mulaudzi said, suggesting many may have been squatting there illegally.
“Inside the building itself there was a (security) gate which was closed so people couldn’t get out,” said Tshwaku.
“Many burned bodies were found stashed at that gate.”
Fire trucks and ambulances were parked outside the red and white building with burned-out windows which has been cordoned off by police, as a small crowd of onlookers gathered in the area.
Illegal occupation of disused buildings in the city centre is widespread, with many said to be under the control of criminal syndicates who collect rent from occupants.
Authorities estimated more than “80 shacks” were set up inside.
“The fire spread very quickly affecting different levels of the building because of the combustible materials used,” said Mulaudzi.
The blaze was the deadliest in South Africa in recent years and one of the worst worldwide.
In December last year, a fuel tanker blast near Johannesburg killed 34 people, while in June, flames ripped through a dilapidated building in the city and killed two children under 10 who were locked in an apartment.
Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter, Zoleka, dies of cancer at 43
South African anti-apartheid struggle hero, Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter, Zoleka Mandela, has died of cancer aged 43, her family said on Tuesday.
The family said recent scans revealed “significant” progress in cancer that affected her hip, liver, lung, pelvis, brain and spinal cord.
“We mourn the loss of a beloved grandchild of Mum Winnie and Madiba,” the Nelson Mandela Foundation wrote on social media, using the name by which the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was fondly known.
“Her work in raising awareness about cancer prevention and her unwavering commitment to breaking down the stigma surrounding the disease will continue to inspire us all.”
Rwanda’s Kagame says he will run for fourth term
Rwandan President Paul Kagame has said for the first time that he plans to run for a fourth term in elections due to be held next year.“Yes, I am indeed a candidate,” Kagame, who has ruled over the country with an iron fist for decades, told Jeune Afrique, a French-language news magazine, in an interview published online on Tuesday.
“I am pleased with the confidence that Rwandans have placed in me. I will always serve them, as long as I can,” the 65-year-old was quoted as saying.
The Rwandan government in March decided to synchronize the dates for its parliamentary and presidential elections, which are due to be held in August next year.
Kagame had previously not made his intentions clear but has presided over controversial constitutional amendments that allowed him to serve a third term.
A former rebel chief, Kagame has been regarded as the country’s de facto leader since the end of the 1994 genocide.
He won a third term in 2017, taking home nearly 99 percent of the votes.
US, EU back African Union bid to join G20
The African Union looks set to become the newest member of the G20, officials said on Friday, as the bloc’s bid won backing from existing members gathered for a summit in India.
G20 host and Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, called for the pan-African organisation to become a permanent member, arguing that developing nations need a greater say in global decision-making.
The proposal has won backing from Washington and on Friday, the European Union said it would also back the move.
“I look forward to welcoming the AU as a permanent member of the G20”, European Council president Charles Michel told reporters in New Delhi, where the two-day G20 summit begins on Saturday.
The Group of 20 major economies currently consists of 19 countries and the European Union, making up about 85 per cent of global GDP and two-thirds of the world population.
But South Africa is currently the only G20 member from the African continent.
The Ethiopia-headquartered AU was created in 2002, following the disbanding of the Organisation of African Unity.
At full strength, it has 55 members, but six junta-ruled nations are currently suspended. Collectively it has a GDP of $3trillion with some 1.4 billion people.
India’s top foreign service officer, Vinay Kwatra, said it expected a decision on AU membership would be made at the summit on Saturday morning.
In December 2022, U.S. President, Joe Biden, said he wanted the AU “to join the G20 as a permanent member”, adding that it had “been a long time in coming, but it’s going to come”.
On Tuesday, Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, reiterated the stance while discussing the U.S. priorities for the New Delhi summit.
“We’re also looking forward to warmly welcoming the African Union as a permanent member of the G20 — the newest permanent member. We believe that the African Union’s voice will make the G20 stronger,” Sullivan said at a White House briefing.
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