Owner of rundown hijacked building ravaged by fire had big plans to renovate it

09 July 2017 - 14:54 By Naledi Shange
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The Cape York building after the fire.
The Cape York building after the fire.
Image: City of Joburg EMS‏ via Twitter

When Ethiopian national Jemal Guto Fatto invested in the rundown Cape York block of flats in the Johannesburg CBD‚ he had big plans to renovate it and turn it into a lucrative business but his plans were delayed when the property’s illegal occupants refused to move.

“I bought the place for R9.2 million in 2014 and it was not too expensive because it was already hijacked‚” said Fatto‚ who has South African citizenship.

He owns several houses in South Africa which he leases out.

“I wanted to renovate the flats for people to live in. The bottom part of the flats would be used for a KFC and a McDonalds‚” said Fatto.

But on Tuesday at around 9am‚ he received a call that his building was on fire.

He rushed to the scene and arrived to the news that seven people had died in the inferno.

One man died after leaping from a window on the third floor of the building‚ landing on the dirty cement floor below.

Six others died inside – some from smoke inhalation and others from the flames.

“I was so down yesterday (Tuesday). I feel bad about the people who died in the building. It still hurts me today. I feel so bad‚” said Fatto.

The notorious building has been a cause of concern for quite some time.

This was the second deadly fire in a space of four years. In August 2013‚ four people‚ including a baby‚ died when a jilted lover set fire to a room on the seventh floor of the building.

Two months ago‚ Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba visited the building with a squadron of Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) officers in an effort to find a 13-year-old girl who was missing and suspected to be in the hijacked building.

Like Mashaba‚ Fatto said he was disturbed by the terrible conditions the people lived in.

The building had no running water‚ electricity or sanitation. Its windows were broken and the walls were mouldy. Rats ran free and the stench of urine and faeces lingered even outside the premises. Nyaope addicts also called Cape York home.

“I have been trying to get them out‚” said Fatto.

“Since I bought it‚ I have been going through the High Court to get an eviction‚” he said.

By Wednesday morning‚ all the residents had since been taken out of the building.

“The area has been declared a crime scene‚” said Lieutenant Kay Makhubela.

“Forensics are still trying to determine the cause of the fire but the place is unsecure for people to live in‚” Makhubela said.

Seven people have died in a fire that broke out in the Johannesburg CBD on Wednesday. Rescue personnel battled massive flames in an attempt to put out the blaze. Shot by: Xanderleigh Dookey Edited by: Olorato Mongale Subscribe to TimesLIVE here: https://www.youtube.com/user/TimesLive

The hundreds of residents who lived in the building‚ some of whom are children as young as seven months‚ spent Tuesday night sleeping on the pavement adjacent to the flats they called home. Some had packed the little belongings they could salvage and had placed them next to their mattresses which they had sprawled on the sidewalk of the busy road.

The City of Johannesburg had earlier told TimesLIVE it was making efforts to find a vacant area where the group would be moved and given tents as temporary accommodation.

At 5pm on Wednesday‚ a place had not been found. It seemed likely that the group would spend a second night out on the streets.

“We still haven’t found anything but we are roping in the Department of Human Settlements to assist us‚” said Disaster Management spokesperson Nana Radebe.

“It is difficult to find accommodation for 341 people‚” she said.

The City was quoted in reports at the weekend as saying it was in talks with the provincial department of human settlements to provide land on which to pitch tents for the residents displaced by the fire.

"Before we are able to move those occupying hijacked buildings‚ it is vital that we identify the occupants living in the building and ensure that we are able to find alternative accommodation for them‚" said Johannesburg mayoral spokesperson Karabo Tledima as saying.

Joburg MMC for Health and Social Development‚ Mpho Phalatse added: ”At present‚ we have provided alternative accommodation in tents on land near Wembley Stadium‚ and have identified and confirmed shelters for those in need.”

While the now-stranded illegal occupants of Cape York are adamant they will move back into the building once police investigations are completed‚ Fatto is hopeful he can take back what is rightfully his and implement his business plans.


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