‘I had dreams for Cape York’: owner

10 July 2017 - 06:31
The Cape York building after the fire.
Image: City of Joburg EMS‏ via Twitter The Cape York building after the fire.

When Ethiopian Jemal Guto Fatto invested in the rundown Cape York block of flats in downtown Johannesburg, he had big plans to turn it into a lucrative business.

But his plans fell apart when the property’s illegal occupants refused to move out. “I bought the place for R9.2-million in 2014 and it was not too expensive because it was already hijacked.

“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 McDonald’s,” he said. But on Thursday he received a call that the building was on fire. He arrived on the scene to the news that seven people had died in the fire.

One of those died after jumping from the third floor. Six others died from smoke inhalation. “I was so down yesterday [Thursday]. I feel bad about the people who died in the building. “It still hurts me now,” said Fatto.

 It is the second deadly fire to have occurred at the building in four years. In 2013 four people‚ including a baby ‚ died when a jilted lover set fire to a room on the building’s seventh floor. Two months ago Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba visited the building with the city’s metro police in search of a missing 13- year-old girl.

Like Mashaba, Fatto said he was disturbed by the terrible conditions that people lived in at the building. The building has no running water or electricity and it is infested with rats. Sewage is everywhere and drug addicts call it home. Fatto said he had been trying to get the people evicted. “I have been going through the High Court to get an eviction.”

Since the fire, residents were removed and the area has been declared a crime scene, said police spokesman Lieutenant Kay Makhubela. He said forensic officers were still determining the cause of the fire. The residents, numbering in their hundreds and including infants, have been sleeping on the street since the fire. They are determined to move back in once the police investigation is complete. But Fatto hopes he can take back what is rightfully his and finally implement his business plan.